New EU-wide rules for drones from 2021

New rules have been in the works for a long time now. They are set to apply throughout the European Union, including the United Kingdom and the other member states of the European Aviation Safety Agency EASA (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein) and are intended to harmonize the airspace in Europe. In June 2019 these rules were finally announced and they must be complied with from 31 December 2020. Originally, the new UAV regulation was to apply from July 2020, but the start date has been postponed by half a year due to the COVID-19 crisis.

In the following I would like to give you an overview of the new rules that are coming, but please note that not all details have been clarified yet. The authorities have one year to implement the regulations. This includes the establishment of new infrastructure (e.g. for registrations) and the evaluation of risks in unmanned aviation.

The new EU regulations follow a risk-based approach. Different requirements apply depending on the risk posed by a drone flight. No distinction is made between private and commercial flights.

To understand the EU regulations, we first have to explain two newly introduced terms:

  • Classes: With the CE classes, drones will in the future be subdivided according to their technical characteristics. There are the classes C0, C1, C2, C3, and C4. In the future, drones must be clearly marked with the appropriate class by the manufacturers. Here you will find a more detailed explanation of the drone classes and the transitional provisions for drones without classification.
  • Categories: Flight maneuvers will in the future be divided into three categories (Open, Specific, and Certified) based on their risk. For the Open category, there are three subcategories: A1, A2, and A3.

For most hobby pilots, the Open category will play the most important role. You can read in these following articles what you need to know for each category :

Europe-wide registration obligation coming

In the future, drone pilots will have to register if a certain ascent weight is reached or if the aircraft is equipped with a sensor to record personal data (e.g. a drone with a camera) and if the drone does not comply with the EU Toy Safety Directive.

You can find more information known so far in our article about registering a drone.

What countries can decide for themselves

Some aspects are not regulated in detail by the EU regulation and leave it up to the individual countries to decide how to structure them, including:

  • Mandatory insurance: Insurance for the drone is mandatory from a weight of 20 kilograms. Other regulations are the responsibility of the individual countries. In Germany, for example, operators must also have liability insurance for lighter drones.
  • Prohibited zones: The states can determine where drones may be flown and where restrictions apply (e.g. nature reserves, airports). However, there is a uniform rule that they must make such data available in the same format, which makes it easier to handle.
  • Minimum age: The minimum age for the Open Category is normally 16 years, a lower age is possible.
  • Own regulations: There are countries where rules already apply that do not exist in others. For example, in Sweden and Croatia permits for aerial photography are required. Such regulations can still exist with the EU regulation.

Summary of new EU regulations 2020/2021

With the new rules you have to clarify at least two fundamental things to determine which rules apply to you: 1) Which class does your drone belong to and 2.) how close you want to get to uninvolved people. Only then will it become clear which requirements you will have to fulfill in the future. Whether these changes will lead to a better understanding of the rules among copter pilots is more than questionable.

I also think it is a pity that every member state in the EU will be able to pass its own laws in the future. For example, each member state is free to set a minimum age. Surely the new EU rules will lead to a standardization of the regulations, but one cannot trust that in every European country the same rules will apply 100%. Thorough preparation for trips abroad will therefore continue to be necessary in the future.

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