European Commission Rules on the Operation of Drones
Earlier this year, the European Commission devised new Regulations setting out comprehensive rules ensuring “safe, secure and sustainable operations of drones”, both for commercial and personal use.
Commission Implementing Regulation 2019/ 947
The Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 of 24 May 2019 on the rules and procedures for the operation of unmanned aircraft (the “Implementing Regulation”), lays down detailed provisions for the operation and personnel involved in an “unmanned aircraft system” (“UAS”), which is defined as “an unmanned aircraft and the equipment to control it remotely”. Article 3 categorises UAS operations under three headings:
- “Open” – those operations not requiring any prior operational authorisation or declaration;
- “Specific” – those operations that would require operational authorisation which is issued and received by a competent authority (locally, the Civil Aviation Directorate within Transport Malta) pursuant to Article 12 and Article 16 of the Implementing Regulation, or, in certain circumstances as outlined in Article 5 (5) whereby a declaration is to be made by a UAS operator (that is, a legal or natural person operating or intending to operate one or more UAS). This operational declaration of compliance must be submitted according to the requirements set out in Appendix 1 of the Implementing Regulation; and
- “Certified” – those operations that would require prior certification according to the Delegated Regulation (cited below) as well as that of the operator and where applicable, licensing of the remote pilot.
The sections that follow (Articles 4 to 7), lay down the necessary requirements for UAS operations to qualify under any one of the 3 abovementioned categories, as well as rules and procedures which should be proportional to the nature and risk of the activity. For instance, a weight limit of 25kg, and a flying distance limit of 120m from the closest point of surface, has been determined for a UAS to be able to fly without prior authorisation (that is, an “open category”).
Of particular importance are Article 8 and Article 9 of the Implementing Regulation which sets out rules and procedures for the competency of remote pilots as well as a set minimum age (16 years) for the purposes of remote pilots operating an “open” or “specific” UAS. Additionally, the European Commission allows Member States to limit and impose additional rules when defining UAS geographical zones in the interest of ensuring that such activities do not jeopardise public safety, respect to privacy and for safeguarding the environment.
Commission Delegated Regulation 2019/945
The European Commission also introduced Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945 of 12 March 2019 on unmanned aircraft systems and on third-country operators of unmanned aircraft systems (the “Delegated Regulation”), to supplement the Implementing Regulation by providing specific design, manufacturing and provision requirements of UAS. The rules incorporated under this Regulation identify inter alia:
- The steps that manufacturers, importers and distributors of open category UAS are expected to follow when placing on the market such devices. Consequently, they are expected to act with due care including compliance with market standards and EU Standardised product conformity, so as not to pose any risks. Member States competent authorities are also expected to organise and perform surveillance of any products placed on the market. Where the authority acknowledges that a product presents a risk on a national level, an evaluation is to be carried out according to the rules laid down;
- The requirements for UAS operated in ”certified” or “specific” categories as defined by Article 5 of the Implementing Regulation; and
- The necessity of third country UAS operators to comply with the Implementing Regulation.
Applicability and Transitory Provisions
All drone operations are expected to comply with the rules contained under the Implementing Regulation by the 1 July 2020. Article 15 (3) on the UAS geographical zones, shall be applicable as from 1 July 2021. The rules set forth in the Delegated Regulation are already directly applicable in all Member States. However, Article 22 of the Implementing Regulation provides for a 2 year transitory period starting 1 year after the date of entry into force of the Regulation, subject to certain conditions, for those “open” category UAS which do not comply with Part 1 to 5 of the Delegated Regulation.