On the 12th of March 2019, the surge in usage of drones around Europe and the world, whether for commercial or personal reasons, triggered the European Commission to adopt rules to be able to ensure safety, security, privacy and above all the protection of personal data within the community.
“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,” said Patrick Ky, Executive Director of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
The EU regulations adopted a risk-based approach, taking into account the weight and specifications of the drone (unmanned aircraft), as well as its intended operations. As such, the regulations do not distinguish between leisure or commercial activities and cater for all drones sold on the market. The regulation applies strictly to all aircrafts designed to operate autonomously or to be piloted remotely without a pilot on board. Drones may be classified under any one of the following three categories; (1) ‘Open’ (lowest risk), (2) ‘Specific’ (medium risk), and (3) ‘Certified’ (high risk).
Covid-19 and postponed applicability of the regulations
As a result of the Covid-19 crisis, the applicability of EU Regulation 2019/947 has been delayed from the 1st of July 2020 to the 31st Decemeber 2020.
As of 31st December:
- Registration of drone operators and certified drones becomes mandatory
- Operations in the ‘specific’ category may be conducted after authorisation given by the National Aviation Authority
Who qualifies as a drone operator?
Any person or organisations who owns or rents a drone is deemed to be a drone operator. A drone operator may not necessarily be the remote pilot, who is the person actually flying the drone. In fact, one could be a drone pilot without being the drone operator. By way of an example, persons who buy a drone to fly in their own free time are deemed to be both drone operators and remote pilots.
Registration of drone operators
Drone operators do not need to register their drones unless they are certified. However, drone operators must register themselves with their National Aviation Authority, and such registration will be valid across all other EASA Member States. In this regard, on the 22nd of October, 2020, the EASA delivered a digitalised and secure system for the exchange of drones registration data among the national authorities of the Member States. One registration is sufficient, irrespective of the number of drones one may operate.
Drone operators are exempt from registering themselves if their drone:
- Weighs less than 250g and has no camera or other sensor able to detect personal data; or
- Despite having a camera or other sensor, and weighing under 250g, is considered to be a toy under the standards of EU law.
The regulations provide further obligations that must be abided by depending on the characteristics of the drone. For example, the regulations specify different types of requirements and restrictions when flying drones, as well as any training requirements depending on the drone’s relevant category. The regulations may require drone operators to obtain specific authorisation from the competent authority to be able to fly drones over a certain weight or that carry certain dangerous goods. This will effectively give local authorities more control in order to prevent any form of misuse or unlawful drone activities. In December 2019, Transport Malta published an ‘Overview and Implementation’ guideline on the EASA Drone regulations.
News update by Dr Gigi Gatt.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to impart legal advice and readers are asked to seek verification of statements made before acting on them.