New common drone regulation in Europe adopted


The European regulations for drones were published in definitive form on 11 June. For the member states, this means that the clock will start ticking, because the regulations must be implemented in all EU countries by the end of June next year. 

From that moment on, drone pilots will also have to register. One of the most important advantages of the new regulations is that they can also fly across borders once they have been authorized in their country of origin.


Toward a common approach of the drone regulation in Europe

To ensure the free circulation of drones and a level playing field within the European Union EASA has developed common European rules. The approach taken is to apply the highest safety standards achieved in manned aviation to drones as well. The rules are based on an assessment of the risk of operation, and strike a balance between the obligations of drone manufacturers and operators in terms of safety, respect for privacy, the environment, protection against noise, and security.

The new rules ensure that drone operators – whether recreational or professional – will have a clear understanding of what is allowed or not. They will cover each operation type from those not requiring prior permission, to those involving certified aircraft and operators, as well as minimum remote pilot training requirements.

Operators will be able to operate their drones seamlessly when travelling across the EU or when developing a business involving drones around Europe. Common rules will help foster investment and innovation in this promising sector.


Finally, final

Last month it became clear that the European drone rules were coming in definitive form, when it was adopted by the European Commission. But the publication is the moment when no more changes can really be made and that means that both professional and recreational drone pilots can finally prepare for what is to come.

From June 2020, the current national rules for drone flying (in France, the DGAC) will be replaced by the European system of rules. These should ensure that the drone sector can develop further, while ensuring the safety of people on the ground and other air traffic.

“Europe will be the first region in the world to have a comprehensive set of rules ensuring safe, secure and sustainable operations of drones both, for commercial and leisure activities. Common rules will help foster investment, innovation and growth in this promising sector”
— Patrick Ky, Executive Director of EASA.

An Open and a Specific Category replace the Professional and Recreational categories.

One of the biggest changes is that the distinction between recreational pilots and professionals will be abolished. A second change is that drone operations will be classified into different risk categories. Flights with a low risk are in the 'Open' category, parties that perform drone flights with a bit more risk are placed in the 'Specific' category.


Most goes to the Open category

The majority of drone flyers will end up in the Open category. The most important changes at a glance, based on the current generation of drones that are not yet subject to stricter product requirements:

  • Every drone pilot who flies with a drone that weighs more than 250 grams or with a drone that is equipped with a camera must register from June 2020. The registration number must be visible on the drone; at a later stage, the drone must also broadcast the registration number;

  • Dronepilots must be 16 years of age or older (excluding toys or DIY builds without a camera that weigh less than 250 grams);

  • Drones may only fly within sight and no higher than 120 meters. In contrast to the current situation, flying is also permitted at night;

  • Drones weighing less than 500 g may fly over areas where it is reasonable to expect that no people involved are flew over. This means that people can also fly above buildings, as long as there are no people outside those buildings;

  • Flying with drones weighing more than 250 grams requires a theory diploma based on an online exam consisting of 40 questions on topics such as aviation regulation, flight safety and privacy. For drones between 250 and 900 grams, an additional 30 additional questions are added, including about meteorology;

  • Drones weighing up to 2 kg may be used up to a horizontal distance of 50 m from people;

  • Drones weighing up to 25 kg may be used up to a distance of 150 m horizontally from residential, recreational and industrial areas, where it can be reasonably expected that no uninvolved persons will be flown over the entire duration of the operation;

  • From 2022, newly sold drones that fly in the Open category must comply with stricter product requirements, which will be guaranteed by new CE quality marks. This includes software height restrictions, sound production, geofencing and the transmission of the registration number of the owner (drone ID).


The Specific category for the professionals

Companies that want to perform drone operations with a higher risk (such as flying above people or in controlled airspace) end up in the Specific category.

For this group, too, the new regulations will come into force from June 2020. 

One will then be allowed to perform flights provided that one works according to standard scenarios and has received approval from the national aviation authority (in France this is the DGAC).


For drone flights with an even higher risk (think of drone flights out of sight or even package and passenger transport) there will be the Certified category. U-Space regulation must ensure that such operations can be performed safely. Hard work is still being done on the conditions and preconditions.


Transitional arrangement

It is true that there is a transitional arrangement. The intention is that by June 2021 all national permits, certificates and exemptions will be converted to the new European system. Also, by 2021, all zones with additional flight restrictions must be defined by the national authorities. This may mean that there are fewer or no opportunities to fly with drones above nature reserves, prisons and industrial complexes.

The new regulations can be viewed in definitive form and in all European languages via the following links: Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945 & Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947


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