The agricultural drone market in the European Union (EU) is developing at unprecedented levels. However, there’s one missing ingredient for a fully functioning EU-wide common drone market: harmonized rules.

Small drones are largely unregulated at the EU level. Following a request from the European Commission, EU Member States and industry stakeholders, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) started to work on a proposal for an EU wide small drones regulatory framework. However, given the complexity of the EU legislative process the proposed common rules will not enter into force in the next 2 years.

In the meantime, national rules (if any) apply.

Here’s a list of the member states that have already adopted a national regulatory framework: France, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

In this blog post, we’ll cover France, Germany and Sweden — 3 of the biggest drone markets in Europe.

France

The use of civilian drones in France is governed by two regulations entered into force in the beginning of 2016. The use of civilian drone is separated into three categories:

  • hobby and competition flying;
  • flying for experimental and testing purposes
  • “particular activities,” which essentially includes the commercial use of drones.

Drones of all categories are subject to strict geographic restrictions. It is prohibited to fly drones over public areas of urban zones without governmental approval.

For flying over private properties, the owner’s authorization is required.

The good news for the professionals flying drones over agricultural areas with the aim to detect and prevent crop health issues is that softer rules apply for non-populated areas:

  • if you fly under 150 meters and within visual line of sight (VLOS), no prior notification and mission specific authorization by local authorities is required
  • if you fly outside of VLOS, below 150 meters above the ground, you can still execute a mission without prior authorization, in the event your drone is under 2 kg.

Germany

The German Air Traffic Act defines unmanned aerial systems commonly called “drones,” as “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAV), including their control stations, which are not used for hobby or recreational purposes.

Pilots of private civilian drones less than 5 kg are subject to no specific aviation legal requirements.

The operation of a UAS that weighs more than 5 kg requires authorization from the aviation authority of the relevant German state.

Operating a UAS that weighs more than 25 kg or operating it outside of VLOS is generally prohibited.

From October 1, 2017, onwards, operators of drones and model aircraft that weigh more than two kilograms will need certification to demonstrate that the operator has specialized knowledge of the operation of UAS and their legal framework.

Sweden

The design, manufacture, modification, maintenance and activities with civil (UAS) Sweden is regulated by the Swedish Transport Agency´s regulations TSFS 2009:88.

Drones used for commercial and research purposes, and drones flown outside the sight of the operator, require licenses from the Swedish Transport Agency and the payment of a fee. In addition, there is differentiation of safety distances based on the weight of the drone.

Drones must only be operated during daylight within visible range from the operator, maximum 120 meters off the ground and 50 meters away from other people, buildings, and other objects or areas worthy of protection.

The legality of using drones for commercial photography purposes is currently pending before the Administrative Supreme Court. Currently, the Swedish government has proposed a legislation to exempt the private use of drone cameras from the permit requirements. The new legislation is expected to become enforceable by August 2017.

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Vera Koussitasseva

Senior Expert engineer in the consultation and preparation of projects for different international companies in the industrial and environmental field.