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Spain–UK–Belgium Comparative Legal Framework: Civil Drones for Professional and Commercial Purposes

  • Miguel Rosa
  • Gavin O’Brien
  • Vadim Vermeiren
Open Access
Chapter
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Law book series (BRIEFSLAW)

Abstract

The aim of this study is to compare the regulations of the three European countries applied to drones or RPASs (remotely piloted aircraft systems) to find similarities and differences, particularly in the use of civil drones for professional and commercial purposes. This analysis gives a clear understanding of the requirements that each country establishes to operate with drones in its territory. As a general rule, countries regulate the activity of drones in their territory by residents in the country, although they leave the door open to operators from other countries to operate legally. In general, the focus of international and national regulations is given to safety. Nevertheless, small drones avoid many of these requirements, as they weigh less than 150 kg and pose fewer risks to people. However, bearing in mind that this kind of work could be related to creative industries, on a professional level, insurance should cover any property damage.

1 Introduction

Since approximately 2011 there has been an increasing tendency to legislate the use of drones in the civil sphere, countries being incorporated with more or less celerity into a regulatory process that is lengthened by the aeronautical approach adopted. Drones are rated as aircraft and treated as such in the use of airspace and in their relationship with other users, both active (other aircraft) and passive (people who are outside the scope of use but who may be affected), with a requirement for safety conditions in the operation that are comparable as far as possible to those of manned aviation.

As Bernauw (2016) highlights, Art. 8 of the Chicago Convention (ICAO 2006) subjects the operation of drones to national authorization. The consequence at present is a regulatory environment that differs between the respective countries, from permissive to restrictive, while the professional and commercial use of drones has an impact on safety that must be addressed.

In countries that already have legislation, there is evidence of some homogeneity in some aspects of regulation, as is the case with the weight limits (MTOW, maximum take-off weight) of regulated aircraft, the operation limits (height, distance to the pilot, etc.), or the registration requirements for the operator, although there is no harmonized regulation in common spaces such as the European Union (EU). In this regard the strategy has been defined to achieve common European legislation (towards 2018), and working groups have been established to develop it under the ward of the Council, the European Commission, and the European Parliament, with the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) working on drafting legislation.

Bearing in mind that, although there will be a common European regulation, there will always be differences from the regulation of other countries outside the EU. The approach of this study is to attain adequate practical knowledge of the regulation of each country to provide academia with a comparative legal framework as well as to give the user a tool to obtain this information. The parameters analysed are:
  • Updated legislation applied in each country;

  • Limitations for operating drones;

  • Compulsory requirements for operators, drones, and pilots to operate drones.

As a sector that is in the process of settlement and based on technologies that evolve very quickly, it is important to keep in mind at all times that there will be a frequent dynamic of changes and updates of legislation until standardized forms of technology utilization are adopted. For this reason references are included to regulatory agencies and links to the information sources, with the date of the last version of legislation in force.

A table has been drawn up (Table 1) to provide a reference document containing adequate knowledge of the specific legislation. The nomenclature and explanation of the sections are detailed. The table’s format tries to parameterize or group the most relevant aspects of each of the regulations under study in sections that are common or at least similar. Although at first glance this is a complicated task due to the different ways of approaching drones’ operation, control, and regulation in each country, some common areas have been defined to provide an appropriate guide to be introduced in each piece of legislation.
Table 1

Proposal for a reference document to compare drone regulations related to operators and pilots

 

Country

Current regulation

Parameters

Comments

Administration and regulation

Regulatory body

Regulatory body name

Link provided in the reference list

Date of last normative update

Date of last normative update

Law that publishes it

Normative identification

Normative name

Link provided in the reference list

Limits to operation

MTOW (maximum take-off weight)

Value

Maximum take-off mass limit value

Divisions according to MTOW

Value

Value that limits divisions

Maximum flight height

Value

Value

VLOS (visual line of sight)

Value

Explanation of conditions

VLOS—distance to pilot

Value

Explanation of conditions

EVLOS (extended visual line of sight)

Value

Explanation of conditions

BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight)

Value

Explanation of conditions

Number of RPASs piloted by the same pilot

Value

Value

Areas of operation

Description

Explanation if needed

Periods of operation

Value

Explanation if needed

Dangerous goods and substances shipped

Value

Explanation if needed

Flight zones

Aeronautical zone

Requirements

Distance from airports

Value

Explanation if needed

Requirements for the operator (Documentation)

Registration request

Value (yes/no)

Explanation if needed

Test flight request

Value (yes/no)

Explanation if needed

RPAS characterization sheet

Value (yes/no)

Explanation if needed

Safety study

Value (yes/no)

Explanation if needed

Operation manual

Value (yes/no)

Explanation if needed

Maintenance manual

Value (yes/no)

Explanation if needed

Additional measures

Value (yes/no)

Explanation if needed

Incident notifications

Value (yes/no)

Explanation if needed

Civil liability insurance

Value (yes/no)

Explanation if needed

Requirements according to operators’ origin

Value

Explanation if needed

Special permit to operate for foreigners

Value

Explanation if needed

Requirements for pilots

Type of qualification (license)

Type

Explanation if needed

Basic

Value

Explanation if needed

Advanced

Value

Explanation if needed

Practical qualification

Value

Explanation if needed

Requirements

Value

Explanation if needed

Flight/training hours

Value

Explanation if needed

Divisions according to MTOW

Value

Explanation if needed

Medical certificate

Value (yes/no)

Explanation if needed

Language

Value

Explanation if needed

Radiophonist license

Value

Explanation if needed

Requirements for RPASs

Identification/registration

Element

Explanation if needed

Airworthiness certification

Value

Explanation if needed

Command and control link

Value

Explanation if needed

Maintenance

Type

Explanation if needed

Test flights

Type

Explanation if needed

Requirements for operation

Previous communication

Value

Explanation if needed

Permission

Value

Explanation if needed

Non-segregated airspace

Value

Explanation if needed

Exceptions

Value

Explanation if needed

Use of RPASs in emergency cases

Value

Explanation if needed

RPAS protection and recovery areas

Value

Explanation if needed

VLOS

Value

Explanation if needed

EVLOS

Value

Explanation if needed

BVLOS

Value

Explanation if needed

Source Own elaboration

2 Regulatory Framework General Evolution

For some years aeronautical authorities have been concerned about the generalization of drones’ use, and since 2011 an important effort has been made to integrate these aircraft into the air space with the maximum safety conditions for all users. The problems are the coordination of the different sensitivities and the establishment of a technical scheme suitable for all countries. From the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization), coordination is attempted somehow mildly, and the main efforts are exerted through the JARUS organization (Joint Authorities for Regulation of Unmanned Systems) or through the States within the European Union. Consequently, as it can be seen, different actors influence this regulatory framework, which can sometimes be confusing.

2.1 European Parliament Ruling on Drones

Being aircraft, drones have to comply with aviation safety rules. International civil aviation rules at the United Nations level have prohibited unmanned aircraft from flying over another state’s territory without its permission since 1944. In the EU the current regulatory system for drones is based on fragmented rules, with many Member States having already regulated or planning to regulate some aspects of civil drones with an operating mass of 150 kg or less. The responsibility for civil drones of over 150 kg is left to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). However, the extent, content, and level of detail of national regulations differ, and conditions for mutual recognition of operational authorization between EU Member States have not been reached.

In 2012, having completed a set of consultations, the Commission published a staff working document on the civil use of RPASs and established a European RPAS steering group to plan and coordinate EU work on civil RPASs. In 2013 the steering group presented its recommendations in a roadmap that covers all types of RPASs except model aircraft and toys. The roadmap identifies potential improvements to the existing regulatory framework and outlines the research and technologies necessary for the safe integration of RPASs into the EU aviation system.

Subsequently, in 2014 the Commission adopted a Communication outlining a strategy for opening the aviation market to the civil use of RPASs in a safe and sustainable manner. It focuses on how to enable the development of RPASs while at the same time addressing their societal impact. The Commission noted its intention to take a step-by-step approach by first regulating drone operations with mature technologies. More complex operations would be permitted progressively. In the longer term, the objective is to integrate RPASs into non-segregated airspace, which is open to all civil air transport.

2.2 European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA )

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has been tasked by the European Commission to develop a regulatory framework for drone operations and proposals for the regulation of “low-risk” drone operations. To achieve this, the EASA is working closely with the Joint Authorities for Regulation of Unmanned Systems (JARUS).

Regulation (EC) No. 216/2008 mandates the Agency to regulate unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) and in particular remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPASs) when used for civil applications and with an operating mass of 150 kg or more. Experimental or amateur-built RPASs, military and non-military governmental RPAS flights, and civil RPASs below 150 kg, as well as model aircraft, are regulated by the individual Member States of the European Union.

The EASA has been tasked by the European Commission—following the Riga Conference (held in 2015) and its associated Declaration—to develop a regulatory framework for drone operations as well as concrete proposals for the regulation of low-risk drone operations.

The “Advance notice of proposed amendment 2015-10” (A-NPA) (EASA 2015a) reflects the principles laid down in the Riga Declaration. It follows a risk- and performance-based approach; it is progressive- and operation-centric. It introduces three categories of operations as already proposed in the published EASA “Concept of operations for drones”:
  • An “open” category (low risk): safety is ensured through operational limitations, compliance with industry standards, requirements for certain functionalities, and a minimum set of operational rules. Enforcement shall be ensured by the police. In this group we could also include indoor drones.

  • A “specific operation” category (medium risk): authorization by National Aviation Authorities (NAAs), possibly assisted by a qualified entity (QE) following a risk assessment performed by the operator. A manual of operations shall list the risk mitigation measures.

  • A “certified” category (higher risk): requirements comparable to manned aviation requirements. Oversight by NAAs (issue of licences and approval of maintenance, operations, training, air traffic management (ATM)/air navigation services (ANS), and aerodrome organizations) and by the EASA (design and approval of foreign organizations).

This regulatory framework will encompass European rules for all drones in all weight classes. The amendments to Regulation (EC) No. 216/2008 that are underway will reflect the above.

Besides, in December 2015 the Agency published a Technical Opinion (EASA 2015b) that contains, in its section 4, an update of the roadmap published by the European RPAS Steering Group (ESRG) in 2013 (ESRG 2013). This Technical Opinion is the result of the consultation performed with A-NPA 2015-10. It has been developed in parallel to the draft modifications to Regulation (EC) No. 216/2008 (hereinafter referred to as the “Basic Regulation”) included in the “Aviation Strategy to Enhance the Competitiveness of the EU Aviation Sector” (hereinafter referred to as the “Aviation Strategy”), published on 7 December 2015.

The Agency also supports the work of the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) UAS Study Group. The ICAO published Circular 328 (2011) on UASs and amended Annexes 2, 7, and 13 to the Chicago Convention to accommodate RPASs intended to be used by international civil aviation.

Moreover, the EASA is member of the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS), which is currently developing recommended requirements for:
  • Licensing of remote pilots;

  • RPASs in visual (VLOS) and beyond line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations;

  • Civil RPAS operators and approved training organizations for remote pilots (JARUS-ORG);

  • Certification specifications for light unmanned rotorcraft (CS-LURS) and aeroplanes (CS-LURS) below 600 kg;

  • Performance requirements for “detect and avoid” to maintain the risk of mid-aid collision below a tolerable level of safety (TLS) and taking into account all the actors in the total aviation system;

  • Performance requirements for command and control data link, whether in direct radio (RLOS) or beyond line-of-sight (BRLOS) and in the latter case supported by a communication service provider (COM SP);

  • Safety objectives for the airworthiness of RPASs (“1309”) to minimize the risk of injuries to people on the ground; and

  • Processes for airworthiness.

The EASA has already published:
  • Guidance material to support approved design organizations (DOA or AP-DOA) in selecting the appropriate certification specifications (among the ones applicable to manned aviation) from which to build the certification basis for RPAS design (see E.Y013-01);

  • NPA 2012-10 to transpose amendment 43 to ICAO Annex 2 into the Standard European Rules of the Air (SERA).

2.3 Joint Authorities for Regulation of Unmanned Systems (JARUS)

JARUS is a group of experts gathering regulatory expertise from all around the world. At present 48 countries, as well as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and EUROCONTROL, are contributing to the development of JARUS’s work products. Participation in JARUS is open to all regulatory authorities with expertise in unmanned or remotely piloted aircraft systems.

The purpose of JARUS is “to recommend a single set of technical, safety and operational requirements for all aspects linked to the safe operation of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS). This requires review and consideration of existing regulations and other material applicable to manned aircraft, the analysis of the specific tasks linked to RPAS and the drafting of material to cover the unique features of RPAS” (JARUS 2015a).

The JARUS guidance material aims to facilitate each authority to write its own requirements and to avoid duplicate efforts. The work is performed by the JARUS working groups; seven WGs are active at this moment (JARUS 2015b): WG1 Flight Crew Licensing, WG2 Operations, WG3 Airworthiness, WG4 Detect & Avoid, WG5 Command, Control & Communications, WG6 Safety & Risk Management, WG7 Concept of Operations.

In the last three years, it has published and made available to the RPAS community some deliverables to clarify concepts or recommend some uses. It is working to provide further inputs into the development of RPAS and UAS regulatory guidance and recommendations in domains in which other organizations (e.g. the ICAO) have not been active.

JARUS is creating a high-level framework that will be at the heart of the development effort. This effort is based on a number of high-level “concepts of operations” (CONOPS) addressing the key elements of the operation of UASs. These CONOPS set high-level assumptions that should guide the work activities in the coming years. They are aimed at providing a stable yet flexible environment, in which JARUS’s work products can be developed and amended as necessary. This will allow innovation to take place with a level of certainty. The members of JARUS have agreed to develop these CONOPS for the following subjects:
  • Regulatory oversight with three categories—A, B, and C or open, specific, and certified;

  • UAS operational categorization;

  • Specific operational risk assessment specifications (SORA);

  • ATM concepts for different operations;

  • The detect and avoid concept for visual line of sight, extended, and beyond visual line of sight;

  • Command and control, from the simplest to the most complex systems.

After JARUS has reached consensus on these concepts, other deliverables—such as operational, technical, safety, and operational requirements and certification specifications—will be derived to support them.

2.4 International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

In the previous section on the AESA, we introduced this United Nations specialized agency. Established by States in 1944, it manages the administration and governance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention). The ICAO works with the Convention’s 191 Member States and industry groups to reach consensus on international civil aviation standards and recommended practices (SARPs) and policies in support of a safe, efficient, secure, economically sustainable, and environmentally responsible civil aviation sector. These SARPs and policies are used by ICAO Member States to ensure that their local civil aviation operations and regulations conform to global norms.

The ICAO has developed the UAS Toolkit (ICAO 2017) as a guide to assist States that are working on the development of UAS operational guidance, regulation, and enabling operation in a safe manner. This Toolkit provides interesting guidance to take into account, but users should always be aware that it could be updated.

There seems to be a general consensus that unmanned aircraft must be allowed to operate without segregation from other air space users (Bernauw 2016).

3 Legal Framework of Spain

According to Pauner-Chulvi (2016), Spain was one of the first European countries to pass a technical regulation on drones.

At the national level, the body responsible for regulating the activity of drones is the State Agency for Air Safety (AESA), under the General Secretariat of Transport (Ministry of Development). It is the aeronautical authority and is responsible for the supervision, inspection, and management of air transport, air navigation, and airport security (AESA 2017a). In addition, it assesses the risks in air transport safety through threat detection, risk analysis and evaluation, and a continuous process of control and mitigation of risks. It also has sanctioning power over violations of civil aviation regulations.

Within its activity it is responsible for developing the regulation of operations with drones up to 150 kg and for monitoring their compliance and operation. The drone section has been framed within the Aircraft Safety Directorate, with the description of remote control piloted aircraft units (RPASs).

As the first action, Royal Decree-Law 8/2014 was passed on 4 July, giving “approval of urgent measures for growth, competitiveness and efficiency”, in which section 6 included the temporary regime for operations with remotely piloted aircraft, drones, weighing less than 150 kg at take-off.

Subsequently, this legislation was processed as a law, Law 18/2014, on 15 October 2014, giving “approval of urgent measures for growth, competitiveness and efficiency” (AESA 2014), which is currently in force. This regulation responded to the need to establish a legal framework that would allow the safe development of a technologically advanced and emerging sector, and from the beginning it was promised that it would be developed in the short term, the Administration being aware that it was a temporary solution that needed to be improved.

This temporary regulation contemplates the different scenarios in which the different aerial works can be realized, depending on the aircraft’s weight. Besides, the conditions now approved are supplemented by the general scheme of Law 48/1960, 21 July, on air navigation and establish the operating conditions of this type of aircraft in addition to other obligations.

Legislation on drones in Spain was published in a somewhat accelerated way in July 2014, to alleviate the sense of freedom, reinforced by the lack of information, that had spread among users over the misconception that “if it is not forbidden, it is permitted”. With regard to aircraft, such as aircraft flying within certain defined parameters, there had always been legislation, and the use of model aeroplanes for many years, being restricted to a specific environment (that of fans and aeromodelling clubs), had not posed major problems.

However, the appearance of drones and the extension of their use outside the domain of model aircraft increased the number of users and potentially dangerous situations at the same time as a professional activity “sub-sector” was being formed, gaining size on a base lacking legal solidity.

By the end of 2013 and early 2014, a number of incidents involving drones had occurred, which motivated the accelerated position taken by the Ministries of Development, Defence, and Industry and the elaboration of regulations that were presented as “provisional” pending more elaborate and refined legislation.

Royal Decree 8/2014 covered the regulation of RPASs, conforming to a scenario of use that evidenced certain deficiencies but giving the possibility to undertake work and activities using drones in a legal way. Subsequently Law 18/2014 was approved.

In the years afterwards, work was carried out on new legislation to improve the aforementioned and currently in force legislation with a draft that has already circulated in its final versions and that seems only to be waiting for its approval by the Government.

Given the imminence of this new legislation, it has been considered appropriate to include and consider it at the same level as Law 18/2014, which is in force, to achieve adequate knowledge about a reality that seems close, although it must be borne in mind that changes may still be made to the wording of some points of this new regulation. The version has been developed by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and the Ministry of Defence (2016).

To gain an adequate understanding of the regulation of drones and how it applies, it is necessary to examine the “guidance material” published by the State Agency for Air Safety (AESA 2017b), which articulates the implementation of the law.

3.1 Current Regulation

At the moment the regulation in force is defined by the following parameters (Table 2):
Table 2

Administration and regulation in Spain

 

Spain

Actual regulation

Parameters

Comments

Administration and regulation

Regulatory body

AESA

AESA: drones less than 150 kg

EASA: drones more than 150 kg

Last updated normative

15 October 2014

BOE (State Official Bulletin) 17 October 2014

Normative identification

Law 18/2014 Section 6th Civilian aeroplanes piloted by remote control

Article 50 distinguishes drones less than 2 kg, drones less than 25 kg, and drones less than 150 kg

Source Own elaboration

3.2 New Regulation and Comparison

There is the intention on the part of the Spanish Administration to update the legislation on drones in the short term, and it has elaborated a draft of regulation that is waiting for the last political formalities for its approval and publication.

A comparative analysis of the two regulations is displayed in Table 3. As we can observe, some parameters have no changes, while others are more detailed or adjusted.
Table 3

Comparative analysis of regulations in Spain

 

Spain

Current regulation

Spain

New regulation

Parameters

Comments

Parameters

Comments

Administration and regulation

Regulatory body

AESA

 

AESA

No changes

Last normative update

15 October 14

BOE 17/10/2014

Pending

 

Normative identification

Law 18/2014 Section 6

Article 50

Pending

 

Limits for operation

MTOW

<25 kg

 

<25 kg

No changes

Divisions according to MTOW

  

<10 kg

To fly over populated areas; new regulation

Maximum flight height

120 m

 

120 m

No changes

VLOS

MTOW <25 kg

Keeping control of aircraft at all times from a ground control station (GCS)

MTOW <25 kg

No changes

VLOS—distance to pilot

<500 m

Keeping visual contact

<500 m

No changes

EVLOS

 

Not allowed

MTOW <25 kg

Observers within 500 m distance from pilot and communicated

BVLOS

MTOW <2 kg

Keeping control of aircraft at all times from a GCS

MTOW <2 kg

No changes

BVLOS

  

MTOW <25 kg

Mandatory detect and avoid (D&A) system on board or in segregated airspace

Number of RPASs piloted by the same pilot

1

 

1

No changes

Areas of operation

 

Non-populated areas or buildings

 

No changes

 

Non-controlled airspace

 

No changes

  

Urban areas and over populated zones

Probably no changes, depending on risk

Periods of operation

Daytime

Always

Daytime/night-time

Specific safety requirement

Dangerous goods and substances shipped

No

 

No

No changes

Flight zones

Non-controlled airspace

Regular safety study

Non-controlled airspace

No changes

  

Controlled airspace or FIZ (flight information zone)

Specific safety study

Distance from airports

>8 km or >15 km with the instrument flight rules (IFR) system

A shorter distance is allowed when agreed and coordinated with airport management

To be determined (TBD)

Agreed and coordinated with airport management—specific safety study

Requirements for the operator (Documentation)

Registration request

Yes

Declaration

Yes

No changes

Test flight request

Yes

Previous to definitive registration

Yes

No changes

RPAS characterization sheet

Yes

For each RPAS

Yes

No changes

Safety study

Yes

For each scenario

Yes

No changes

Operation manual

Yes

 

Yes

No changes

Maintenance manual

Yes

 

Yes

No changes

Additional measures

Yes

To avoid interference

Yes

No changes

Incident notifications

Yes

Mandatory

Yes

No changes

Civil liability insurance

Yes

For each aircraft, €300 k min.

Yes

No changes

Requirements according to operators’ origin

Open

 

Open

No changes

Special permit to operate for foreigners

Open

Official language competency is mandatory

Open

No changes

Requirements for pilots

Type of qualification (license)

Qualification

Not a license

Qualification

No changes

Basic

50 h

VLOS—on-site and online (with 5 h onsite session) + on-site exam

50 h

No changes

Advanced

60 h

BVLOS—on-site and online (with 6 h on-site session) + on-site exam

60 h

No changes

Practical qualification

For each aircraft

Specific aircraft, almost a type certificate

For each aircraft

No changes

Requirements

 

On-site theoretical class 5 h + theory exam + practical exam

 

No changes

Flight/training hours

No

 

Yes

>3 h in the last 3 months for each category of aircraft

Divisions according to MTOW

<5 kg; <15 kg

To be considered as similar RPASs for qualification

<5 kg; <15 kg

No changes

Medical certificate

Yes

LAPL certificate (light aircraft pilot licence) or class 2 certificate until the LPAL is in force

Yes

LPAL certificate (as for light aircraft manned piloting certificate)

Language

ESP

 

ESP

No changes

Radiophonist license

No

Current regulation

Yes

For flights in controlled airspace

Requirements for RPASs

Identification/registration

Identification plate

MTOW <25 kg

Identification plate

No changes

Registration

MTOW >25 kg

Registration

No changes

Airworthiness certification

MTOW >25 kg

 

MTOW >25 kg

No changes

Command and control link

 

At all times

 

No changes

Maintenance

Maintenance programme

Provided by the manufacturer

Maintenance programme

No changes

Test flights

Previous

For operator registration, to demonstrate that operation is performed safely

Previous

No changes

Requirements for operation

Previous communication

Yes

Registration

Yes

No changes

Permission

Yes

Specific and temporary for testing flights

Yes

For flights in controlled traffic regions (CTRs), BVLOS, or populated areas

Non-segregated airspace

Yes

Mandatory

Yes

Mandatory but other scenarios are considered with permission

Exceptions

No

CTR or FIZ flights are not allowed

Yes

CTRs, FIZs, or populated areas

Use of RPASs in emergency cases

Yes

Exemptions are considered in emergency cases

Yes

Specific exemptions are stated for operation in emergency cases

RPAS protection and recovery areas

No

Not allowed

Yes

R >30 m for take-off and landing

VLOS

Yes

MTOW <25 kg

Yes

No changes

EVLOS

 

Not allowed

MTOW <25 kg

Observers within 500 m distance from the pilot and communicated

BVLOS

MTOW <2 kg

Issue of notice to airmen (NOTAM)

MTOW <2 kg

No changes

BVLOS

2 <MTOW <25 kg

Segregated airspace

2 <MTOW <25 kg

With a D&A system in non-controlled airspace—without a D&A system in segregated airspace

Source Own elaboration and EASA (2017)

4 Legal Framework of the UK

In the UK the administration authority in charge of civil drones is the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). In relation to drones (CAA 2017a), the regulation separates drones as follows: up to 7 kg or up to 20 kg (small) and up to 150 kg (light). Art. 94 of the Air Navigation Order (CAA 2017b) and the regulations made under the order exclude small drones from some obligations.

However, this depends on the use of the drone. It is not compulsory to register a personal drone or obtain a permit for a recreational drone in the UK, but, if the drone is used for professional work, then a Permission for Aerial Work is needed, which has to be renewed annually (CAA 2017a).

The basic parameters are the following:
  • Line of sight (LOS) at a maximum height of 400 ft (122 m);

  • 500 m of distance horizontally;

  • In any case fly away from aircraft, helicopters, airports, and airfields;

  • If fitted with a camera, a drone must be flown at last 50 m away from a person, vehicle, building, or structure not owned or controlled by the pilot;

  • Camera-equipped drones must not be flown within 150 m of a congested area or large group of people, such as a sporting event or concert.

It is important to respect “no fly zones”, which depend not only on the city or town but also on the commons. For example, in London, London’s royal parks, Wimbledon Common, Putney Common, and Clapham Common, among others, are no-drone zones. In other cases, such as the borough of Lambeth, a commercial licence is necessary. Therefore, it is better to check with the local council before flying. There is still confusion in some areas about whether drones are permitted or not.

In the case of private property, it is possible to fly in the airspace above (but not higher than the general rule of 400 ft) as long as it does not cause a nuisance, infringe privacy, or otherwise interfere with the “ordinary use and enjoyment” of the land.

On the other hand, the regulation makes no distinction between indoor or outdoor flights in the case of commercial work. Certain hazard factors are heavily mitigated by the fact that the aircraft is flying in an enclosed environment and access to the venue can be controlled (CAA 2017a).

The UK Government is proposing to change the regulations so that any recreational drone weighing more than 250 g has to be registered. Ministers also want drones to be “electronically identifiable” on the ground so that their owners can be tracked. They are also proposing increases to the maximum fine for flying in a no-fly zone, which is currently limited to £2500.

It is not necessary to have drone insurance by law, but it will protect the operator against claims. Moreover, endangering an aircraft in flight is a criminal offence in the UK, and anyone convicted of the charge can face a prison term. Some drones have the capacity to geo-fence restricted areas, such as airports. They can also be used in “beginner” modes, which limit the height and distance that the quadcopter can fly away from the user.

In Table 4 we can observe the different parameters according to UK regulation. As our first observation, we can notice that the UK regulation is less detailed than the Spanish one reviewed.
Table 4

UK current regulation

 

UK

Current regulation

Parameters

Comments

Administration and regulation

Regulatory body

CAA

CAA: drones less than 150 kg

EASA: drones more than 150 kg

Last normative update

22 February 2017

Differences between drones up to 7 kg and drones up to 20 kg (small)

Normative identification

The Air Navigation Order 2016

Article 94

Limits for operation

MTOW

<20 kg

 

Divisions according to MTOW

<7 kg; <20 kg

 

Maximum flight height

122 m

 

VLOS

MTOW <20 kg

 

VLOS—distance to pilot

<500 m

Keeping visual contact

EVLOS

 

Need for special approval

BVLOS

MTOW <7 kg

 

Number of RPASs piloted by the same pilot

1

 

Areas of operation

Limited

Non-populated areas or buildings (min. 150 m)

 

Not closer than 50 m to any person

Periods of operation

 

Always

Dangerous goods and substances shipped

No

 

Flight zones

Non-controlled airspace

Safety study

Distance from airports

Yes

Check no-fly zones (http://www.noflydrones.co.uk)

Requirements for the operator (Documentation)

Registration request

No

Unless commercial: operator’s certification

Test flight request

No

 

RPAS characterization sheet

No

 

Safety study

Yes

Risk assessment specific to the activity being conducted >20 kg

Operation manual

Yes

Flight plan for the activity being conducted

Maintenance manual

No

 

Additional measures

No

 

Incident notifications

No

 

Civil liability insurance

No

Unless commercial: operator’s insurance

Requirements according to operators’ origin

Yes

Professional or commercial

Special permit to operate for foreigners

Open

 

Requirements for pilots

Type of qualification (license)

Qualification

Drone pilot’s commercial licence or >20 kg or BVLOS

Basic

 

Confirmation of the competencies of the pilot

Advanced

No

Special authorization depending on the activity

Practical qualification

Yes

 

Requirements

No

 

Flight/training hours

Yes

 

Divisions according to MTOW

No

 

Medical certificate

No

 

Language

EN

 

Radiophonist license

No

 

Requirements for RPASS

Identification/registration

Registration

MTOW >20 kg

Airworthiness certification

MTOW >20 kg

 

Command and control link

 

At all times

Maintenance

No

 

Test flights

No

 

Requirements for operation

Previous communication

Yes

Registration (commercial)

Permission

Yes

Commercial

Non-segregated airspace

Yes

Mandatory

Exceptions

No

CTR or FIZ flights are not allowed

Use of RPASs in emergency cases

Yes

Exemptions are considered in emergency cases

RPAS protection and recovery areas

No

Depending on the common

VLOS

Yes

MTOW <20 kg

EVLOS

 

Need for special approval

BVLOS

MTOW <7 kg

 

BVLOS

7 kg <MTOW >20 kg

Segregated airspace

Source Own elaboration; EASA (2017), Stöcker (2017)

5 Legal Framework of Belgium

The Belgian Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) published the Royal Decree of 10 April 2016 “concerning the use of remote controlled aircrafts in the Belgian airspace”, which regulates drone operations. It normalizes both the private and the professional use of drones and introduces a registration obligation for drones, regulates the certificates, and defines the authorized take-off and landing spots for registered drones. Moreover, manufacturers of drones need technical requirements, the delivery of conformity certificates, the drafting of a flight manual and safety analysis reporting, maintenance requirements, flight tests, and so on.

According to the BCAA (2017), we can distinguish five types of operations:
  • Private use: maximum higher than 10 m above a private terrain and the drone—weighing less than 1 kg—must be within line of sight at all times. These flights can only happen during daylight, and they are not allowed for commercial or professional purposes.

  • Model aircraft: take-off weight between 1 and 150 kg and used only for recreational purposes above a model aircraft terrain recognized by the BCAA, as specified in the aeronautical information package (AIP). They are not allowed for commercial or professional purposes.

  • Class 2 operations: not higher than around 45 m above ground outside controlled airspace and outside cities or communities. Operations can only occur in daylight conditions and the drone—weighing less than 5 kg—must remain within the pilot’s LOS at all times.

  • Class 1b operations: up to around 90 m above ground outside controlled airspace. Moreover, more than 50 m clear of people and/or goods on the ground. Operations can only occur in daylight conditions and the drone—weighing less than 150 kg—must remain within LOS at all times.

  • Class 1a operations: up to around 90 m above ground outside controlled airspace. Moreover, closer than 50 m to people and/or goods on the ground or even over them or around an obstacle closer than 30 m. Operations can only occur in daylight conditions and the drone—weighing less than 150 kg—must remain within line of sight at all times. All operations that are not covered in the previous categories are to be considered as Class 1a operations.

Therefore, only classes 1 and 2 can be used for commercial or professional purposes. This means:
  • Registration of the drone at the BCAA;

  • A certificate of competence in the case of class 2 (taking a theoretical course and passing a practical skill test with an examiner recognized by the BCAA) or a remote pilot licence in the case of class 1 (a theoretical examination organized by the BCAA and a practical skill test with an examiner recognized by the BCAA);

  • An operation manual and risk assessment for class 1;

  • A declaration made by the operator that the organization is in full compliance with the national requirements for class 1b (starting operations only after receiving confirmation from the BCAA and notifying the BCAA of each drone flight before take-off) and the prior authorization of the BCAA for class 1a (the drone has a certificate of conformity from the BCAA or an equivalent document issued by a civil aviation authority from an EU Member State. If not, one must be obtained prior to requesting authorization);

  • Forbidden zones at all times are: all controlled airspaces, prohibited zones, danger zones, restricted zones, temporary segregated/reserved areas, and so on. Industrial complexes, nuclear power plants, military zones, and other special zones cannot be flown over unless otherwise described in the AIP.

The use of completely autonomous aircrafts, that is, unmanned drones that do not allow the pilot to intervene immediately to take control over the flight, remains strictly forbidden.

Other chapters of the Royal Decree include provisions for the communication and control software that is implemented in drone technology, incident reporting obligations, mandatory insurance coverage for drone operators, and references to compliance with the applicable data protection and privacy legislation (in particular for drones with a camera functionality).

Excluded from the regulatory requirements of the Royal Decree of 10 April 2016 are (a) drones used only to fly inside buildings (indoor); (b) drones used by the military, customs authorities, the police, coastguard, and so on; and (c) certain types of model aeroplanes solely used for personal/recreational purposes, provided that they meet the strict requirements detailed in the Royal Decree.

As our focus is on the commercial or professional use of drones, we summarize the current parameters in Table 5.
Table 5

Belgium’s current regulation (commercial or professional)

 

Belgium

Current regulation

 

Parameters

Comments

Administration and regulation

Regulatory body

BCAA

BCAA: drones less than 150 kg

EASA: drones more than 150 kg

Last normative update

None

 

Normative identification

Royal Decree of 10 April 2016

Drones are divided depending on their weight into class 2 (up to 5 kg) and class 1 (up to 150 kg)

Limits for operation

MTOW

<150 kg

 

Divisions according to MTOW

<5 kg; <150 kg

 

Maximum flight height

45–90 m

 

VLOS

MTOW <150 kg

 

VLOS—distance to pilot

<50 m

Keeping visual contact

EVLOS

Not allowed

 

BVLOS

MTOW <5 kg

Prior authorization (Class 1)

Number of RPASs piloted by the same pilot

1

Not specified

Areas of operation

Limited

Not prohibited zones, danger zones, restricted zones, temporary segregated/reserved areas, etc.

Periods of operation

Daytime

All cases

Dangerous goods and substances shipped

No

 

Flight zones

Non-controlled airspace

Safety study

Distance from airports

Yes

 

Requirements for the operator (Documentation)

Registration request

Yes

 

Test flight request

No

 

RPAS characterization sheet

No

 

Safety study

Yes

Only class 1: risk assessment by the operator

Operation manual

Yes

Only class 1: operation manual drafted by the operator

Maintenance manual

No

 

Additional measures

Yes

To avoid interference

Incident notification

Yes

 

Civil liability insurance

Yes

 

Requirements according to operators’ origin

Yes

Class 1a (certificate of conformity for the drone)

Class 1b (declaration of compliance made by the operator)

Special permit to operate for foreigners

Open

 

Requirements for pilots

Type of qualification (license)

Qualification

 

Basic (class 2)

Yes

Theoretical training + practical skill test

Advanced (class 1)

Yes

Theoretical exam + practical skill test

Practical qualification

Yes

 

Requirements

Yes

16 years (class 2) or 18 years (class 1)

Flight/training hours

No

 

Divisions according to MTOW

Yes

 

Medical certificate

Yes

Class 1

Language

FR or NL

 

Radiophonist license

No

 

Requirements for RPASs

Identification/registration

Yes

 

Registration

MTOW >5 kg

Airworthiness certification

MTOW >5 kg

 

Command and control link

 

At all times

Maintenance

Yes

 

Test flights

Yes

 

Requirements for operation

Previous communication

Yes

Flight notification to the BCAA before start of flight (class 1)

Permission

Yes

Authorization to operate received from the BCAA (class 1a)

Non-segregated airspace

Yes

Industrial complexes, nuclear power plants, military zones, and other special zones cannot be flown over unless otherwise described in the AIP

Exceptions

No

CTR or FIZ flights are not allowed

Use of RPASs in emergency cases

Yes

Exemptions are considered in emergency cases

RPAS protection and recovery areas

No

 

VLOS

Yes

MTOW <150 kg

EVLOS

 

Not allowed

BVLOS

MTOW <150 kg

 

BVLOS

<150 kg MTOW >5 kg

Segregated airspace

Source own elaboration and EASA (2017)

6 Comparative Analysis

See Table 6.
Table 6

Comparative analysis from Tables 3, 4 and 5

 

Spain

Current regulation

New regulation

UK

Current regulation

Belgium

Current regulation

Parameters

Comments

Comments

Parameters

Comments

Parameters

Comments

Administration and regulation

  

Regulatory body

AESA

AESA: drones less than 150 kg

EASA: drones more than 150 kg

No changes

CAA

CAA: drones less than 150 kg

EASA: drones more than 150 kg

BCAA

BCAA: drones less than 150 kg

EASA: drones more than 150 kg

Normative identification

Law 18/2014 Section 6

Article 50 distinguishes drones less than 2 kg, less than 25 kg, and less than 150 kg

 

The Air Navigation Order 2016

Article 94 Differences between drones up to 7 kg and drones up to 20 kg

Royal Decree of 10 April 2016

Drones are divided into class 2 (up to 5 kg) and class 1 (up to 150 kg)

Limits for operation

  

MTOW

<25 kg

 

No changes

<20 kg

 

<150 kg

 

Divisions according to MTOW

  

<10 kg to fly over populated areas, new regulation

<7 kg; <20 kg

 

<5 kg; <150 kg

 

Maximum flight height

120 m

 

No changes

122 m

 

45–90 m

 

VLOS

MTOW <25 kg

Keeping control of aircraft at all times from a ground control station (GCS)

No changes

MTOW <20 kg

 

MTOW <150 kg

 

VLOS—distance to pilot

<500 m

Keeping visual contact

No changes

<500 m

Keeping visual contact

<50 m

Keeping visual contact

EVLOS

 

Not allowed

MTOW <25 kg Observers within 500 m distance from pilot and communicated

 

Need for special approval

 

Not allowed

BVLOS

MTOW <2 kg

Keeping control of aircraft at all times from GCS

No changes

MTOW <7 kg

 

MTOW <5 kg

 

BVLOS

  

MTOW <25 kg Mandatory detect and avoid (D&A) system on board or in segregated airspace

  

Requires authorization

Categorized as Class 1

Number of RPASs piloted by the same pilot

1

 

No changes

1

Not specified

1

Not specified

Areas of operation

 

Non-populated areas or buildings

No changes

 

Non-populated areas or buildings (min. 150 m)

 

Not prohibited zones, danger zones, restricted zones, temporary segregated/reserved areas, etc.

 

Non-controlled airspace

Urban areas and over populated zones

 

Non-controlled airspace

  
  

Non-controlled airspace

 

Not closer than 50 m to any person

 

Not closer than 50 m to any person

Periods of operation

Daytime

Always

Daytime-/night-time-specific safety requirement

 

Always

Daytime

All cases

Dangerous goods and substances shipped

No

 

No changes

No

 

No

 

Flight zones

Non-controlled airspace

Regular safety study

No changes

Non-controlled airspace

Safety study

Non-controlled airspace

Safety study

  

Controlled airspace or FIZ (flight information zone)—specific safety study

Yes

Check no-fly zones (http://www.noflydrones.co.uk)

Yes

 

Distance from airports

>8 km or >15 km with an instrument flight rules (IFR) system

Shorter distance is allowed when agreed and coordinated with airport management

Agreed and coordinated with airport management—specific safety study

Yes

Check

Yes

 

Requirements for the operator (Documentation)

  

Registration request

Yes

Declaration

No changes

No

Unless commercial: operator’s certification

Yes

 

Test flight request

Yes

Previous to definitive registration

No changes

No

 

No

 

RPAS characterization sheet

Yes

For each RPAS

No changes

No

 

No

 

Safety study

Yes

For each scenario

No changes

Yes

Risk assessment specific to the activity being conducted

Yes

Only class 1: risk assessment by the operator

Operation manual

Yes

 

No changes

Yes

Flight plan for the activity being conducted

Yes

Only class 1: operation manual drafted by the operator

Maintenance manual

Yes

 

No changes

No

 

No

 

Additional measures

Yes

To avoid interference

No changes

No

 

Yes

To avoid interference

Incident notifications

Yes

Mandatory

No changes

No

 

Yes

 

Civil liability insurance

Yes

For each aircraft, €300 k min.

No changes

No

Unless commercial: operator’s insurance

Yes

 

Requirements according to operators’ origin

Open

 

No changes

Yes

Commercial

Yes

Class 1a (certificate of conformity for the drone)

Class 1b (declaration of compliance made by the operator)

Special permit to operate for foreigners

Open

Official language competency mandatory

No changes

Open

 

Open

 

Requirements for pilots

  

Type of qualification (license)

Qualification

Not a license

No changes

Qualification

Drone pilot’s commercial licence

Qualification

 

Basic

50 h

VLOS—on-site and online (with 5 h on-site session) + on-site exam

No changes

 

Confirmation of the competencies of the pilot

Yes

Theoretical training + practical skill test (class 2)

Advanced

60 h

BVLOS—on-site and online (with 6 h on-site session) + on-site exam

No changes

No

 

Yes

Theoretical exam + practical skill test (class 1)

Practical qualification

For each aircraft

Specific aircraft, almost a type certificate

No changes

No

 

Yes

Both classes

Requirements

 

Onsite theoretical class 5 h + theory exam + practical exam

No changes

No

 

Yes

16 years (class 2) or 18 years (class 1)

Flight/training hours

No

 

Yes >3 h in the last 3 months for each category of aircraft

No

 

No

 

Divisions according to MTOW

<5 kg; <15 kg

To be considered as similar RPASs for qualification

No changes

No

 

Yes

 

Medical certificate

Yes

LAPL certificate (light aircraft pilot licence) or Class 2 certificate until LPAL is in force

LPAL certificate (as for light aircrafts manned piloting certificate)

No

 

Yes

Class 1

Language

ESP

 

No changes

EN

 

FR or NL

 

Radiophonist license

No

Current regulation

Yes, for flights in controlled airspace

No

 

No

 

Requirements for RPASs

  

Identification/registration

Identification plate

MTOW <25 kg

No changes

No identification

 

Yes

 

Registration

MTOW >25 kg

No changes

Registration

MTOW >20 kg

Registration

MTOW >5 kg

Airworthiness certification

MTOW >25 kg

 

No changes

MTOW >20 kg

 

MTOW >5 kg

 

Command and control link

 

At all times

No changes

 

At all times

 

At all times

Maintenance

Maintenance programme

Provided by the manufacturer

No changes

No

 

No

 

Test flights

Previous

For operator registration, to demonstrate that operation is performed safely

No changes

No

 

Yes

 

Requirements for operation

  

Previous communication

Yes

Registration

No changes

Yes

Registration (commercial)

Yes

Flight notification to the BCAA before start of flight (class 1)

Permission

Yes

Specific and temporary for testing flights

For flights in controlled traffic regions (CTRs), BVLOS, or populated areas

Yes

Commercial

Yes

Authorization to operate received from the BCAA (class 1a)

Non-segregated airspace

Yes

Mandatory

Mandatory but other scenarios are considered with permission

Yes

Mandatory

Yes

Industrial complexes, nuclear power plants, military zones, and other special zones cannot be flown over unless otherwise described in the AIP

Exceptions

No

CTR or FIZ flights are not allowed

Yes CTR, FIZ, or populated areas

No

CTR or FIZ flights are not allowed

No

CTR or FIZ flights are not allowed

Use of RPASs in emergency cases

Yes

Exemptions are considered in emergency cases

Specific exemptions are stated for operation in emergency cases

Yes

Exemptions are considered in emergency cases

Yes

Exemptions are considered in emergency cases

RPAS protection and recovery areas

No

Not allowed

Yes R >30 m for take-off and landing

No

Depending on the common

No

Depending on the common

VLOS

Yes

MTOW <25 kg

No changes

Yes

MTOW <20 kg

Yes

MTOW<150 kg

EVLOS

 

Not allowed

MTOW <25 kg Observers within 500 m distance from pilot and communicated

 

Need for special approval

 

Not allowed

BVLOS

MTOW <2 kg

Issue of notice to airmen (NOTAM)

No changes

MTOW <7 kg

 

MTOW <150 kg

 

BVLOS

2 kg< MTOW >25 kg

Segregated airspace

With a D&A system in non-controlled airspace—without a D&A system in segregated airspace

7 kg < MTOW >20 kg

Segregated airspace

<150 kg MTOW >5 kg

Segregated airspace

Source Own elaboration

7 Conclusions

As we can observe in Table 6, the differences among European countries regarding the operation of drones are still relevant, diminishing the competitiveness of the European drone industry. However, the future legal framework, as designed by the EASA (2017), will create legal certainty for the industry, especially concerning drone requirements in the case of commercial and professional activities.

Furthermore, distinguishing drones depending on their risk and not on their weight could solve the problems of professionals when working in another European country. As an example, we can observe big differences between countries like Belgium, France, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the UK, where the national authority’s permission is limited to 150 kg, while other countries, such as Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, and Portugal, place the upper weight limit at 25 kg.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.AerotoolsAlcobendas (Madrid)Spain
  2. 2.ClearheadLutonUnited Kingdom
  3. 3.PozyxGhentBelgium

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