EU publishes regulations on drones and their exploitation

Two regulations of the European Union related to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and their operation were published in the Official Journal of the EU on June 11th 2019. These texts, which are directly applicable in the Member States, regulate all types of UAS and their uses in the territory of the European Union. The purpose of these regulations is to harmonize the national legislative provisions of the Member States in order to limit the legal hurdles to the production, marketing and exploitation of such systems.

Drones are now divided into three categories:

1.    the open category includes UAS under 25 Kg, which cannot or are not allowed to fly over 120 meters above ground level, which operate on electricity, that do not carry any dangerous goods, who cannot fly over an assembly of people and who must be piloted in direct view;

2.    the certified category applies to drones larger than 3 meters designed to fly over a group of persons as well as those designed to carry either persons or dangerous goods;

3.    the specific category is an intermediate category encompassing drones which do not fall under either the open category or the certified category.

According to their category, drones are subject to operating requirements proportionally to their intrinsic dangerousness.

The open category, intended for civilians, is subdivided into five sub-categories of drones according to their weight, their range and their maximum speed, and in three levels of exploitation for which strict rules must be respected.

Thus, the European regulation requires each open category drone of more than 250 g:

-       to be recorded on a national file;

-       to integrate a transponder permanently communicating information on the drone and the registration number of the operator;

-       to be equipped with a geo-awareness function that prevents the drone from flying over areas considered sensitive, such as nuclear power plants or airports.

Operation of specific category drones requires prior authorization issued by the competent authority of the Member State of registration.

The use of certified category drones is subject to the possession by the pilot of a light UAS operator certificate (LUC).

This new European regulation introduces new constraints for manufacturers and operators of drones. It is nevertheless more flexible than French legislation concerning urban areas. While the latter prohibits the overflight of urban areas, European regulation is limited to prohibiting the overflight of assemblies of people, which are defined very restrictively as “gatherings where persons are unable to move away due to the density of the people present”.

These regulations came into force on July 1st 2019. However, the regulation on the rules and procedures for the operation of drones will only be applicable from July 1st 2020 and contains transitional provisions until July 1st 2022.

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