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Introduction

The increased use of drones for civilian applications has presented many countries with regulatory challenges. Such challenges include the need to ensure that drones are operated safely, without harming public and national security, and in a way that would protect areas of national, historical, or natural importance. A variety of the countries surveyed in this report have also made efforts to address concerns regarding the property and privacy rights of landowners or other persons impacted by the operation of drones.

International standards to regulate certain aspects of drone operations are currently being considered by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In 2011 the ICAO issued a circular titled Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) (CIR328). Serving as a first look at the subject, the circular calls on states to provide comments, “particularly with respect to its application and usefulness,” in an effort to proceed with the development of “the fundamental international regulatory framework through Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs), with supporting Procedures for Air Navigation Services (PANS) and guidance material, to underpin routine operation of UAS throughout the world in a safe, harmonized and seamless manner comparable to that of manned operations.” [1]

Efforts to harmonize rules of drone operations are currently being undertaken by the European Commission, which has introduced a proposal to integrate all drones, regardless of their size, into the EU aviation safety framework.

While some individual countries have adopted legislation or implemented temporary provisions on the operation of drones, various regulatory and legislative proposals are currently being considered.

This report surveys the regulation of drone operations under the laws of twelve countries as well as the European Union. Countries surveyed use different terminology in regulating drones. Such terms include “unmanned aircraft systems” (UAS); “unmanned aerial [or air] vehicles” (UAVs), and “remotely piloted aircraft” (RPA). For the purpose of uniformity and to reflect the terminology used by the ICAO, this summary refers to drones as UAS, to include all types of unmanned systems, vehicles, and aircraft, excluding model aircraft used for hobby or recreational purposes.

Similarly, in conformity with universal, commonly used measurements, references to weight and distance in this summary are to kilograms (kg), meters, and kilometers.

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II. Scope of Regulations

Several countries surveyed regulate UAS operations according to their weight and/or type of use.

A. European Union Member States

The operation of large civilian drones exceeding 150 kg in European Union (EU) Member States is regulated by EU Law and monitored by the European Aviation Service Agency. Smaller drones are largely unregulated at the EU level at this time and are thus regulated by the individual EU Member States.

In France the operation of UAS that weigh no more than 25 kg for experimental or testing purposes does not generally require a special permit as long as the operation complies with certain flight requirements. The operation of UAS that have a mass of less than 150 kg for other “particular activities,” primarily for commercial use, is subject to rules. For UAS of 150 kg or more, which are subject to EU-level regulation, the flight and use conditions are authorized on a case-by-case basis.

Under German law, the operation of a UAS that weighs more than 25 kg will not be authorized. In order to operate a UAS that weighs more than 5 kg the owner must obtain specific flight authorization from the aviation authority of the German state in question. For UAS that do not weigh more than 5 kg and do not have a combustion engine, a general authorization to fly may be granted for a period of two years. A general authorization is only issued for a specific state, but may be recognized by other states.

Poland currently excludes UAS weighing less than 25 kg from registration requirements. If the weight exceeds 25 kg a permit to fly is required and operational restrictions may be applicable.

Swedish regulations establish several categories based on UAS weight and usage. UAS used for commercial and research purposes, and those flown outside the sight of the operator, generally require licenses from the Swedish Transport Agency.

While generally exempting the operation of UAS weighing 20 kg or less from airworthiness and flight-crew licensing requirements, the United Kingdom subjects UAS that weigh between 20–150 kg to all articles of its Air Navigation Order. Operators of these aircraft are therefore required, among other things, to obtain a certificate of airworthiness, have a permit to fly, and have a licensed flight crew.

B. Australia

Newly adopted rules in Australia, when they come into force, will generally exempt commercial flights of UAS weighing less than 2 kg from the need for a remote pilot’s license or operator’s certificate. Operating UAS weighing 2–25 kg will similarly be exempt if flown over a person’s own land for certain purposes and in compliance with standard operating conditions. Operating UAS weighing between 25 and 150 kg under similar conditions will require a remote pilot’s license. Operators of large UAS, as well as smaller UAS for other nonrecreational purposes, will still be required to obtain a remote pilot license and operator’s certificate. Large UAS must also obtain airworthiness certifications.

C. Canada

In Canada, the need for a UAS operator to have a special flight operations certificate depends upon whether the UAS is used for recreational or nonrecreational purposes, its weight, and whether particular exemptions apply. UAS that weigh 35 kg or less and are used for recreational purposes do not require such a certificate. The operation of UAS for nonrecreational purposes or of UAS that weigh more than 35 kg (irrespective of the purpose) require a certificate. UAS that weigh less than 2 kg or between 2 kg and 25 kg are subject to exemptions if the operator is able to follow strict safety conditions.

New regulations for UAS that weigh 25 kg or less are being developed. These regulations will eliminate the current distinction between recreational and nonrecreational uses. The proposed changes provide a classification system based on the risks involved in the use of UAVs, with the operation of UAS weighing 25 kg or more continuing to be subject to the licensing requirement.

D. China

Interim provisions regulating UAS have recently been issued by China’s civil flight regulatory body. While generally exempting UAS weighing 1.5 kg or less from their application, the interim provisions apply to UAS with a maximum empty weight of 116 kg or less, or a maximum take-off gross weight of 150 kg or less, and a calibrated air speed of no greater than 100 kilometers per hour. The provisions are also applicable to “plant protection UAS” used for agricultural, landscaping, or forest protection purposes with a maximum take-off gross weight of 5,700 kg or less and flying no higher than 15 meters above the surface, and to unmanned airships with an inflatable volume of 4,600 cubic meters or less.

E. Israel

Under Israeli law, the operation of all UAS is generally subject to extensive regulation regardless of their weight or type of use under special rules applicable to UAS and general rules that apply to all aircraft.

F. Japan

Japanese law exempts UAS that weigh 200 grams (7 ounces) or less from the licensing and conditions enumerated in the country’s Aviation Act.

G. New Zealand

New Zealand differentiates among unmanned aircraft based on their weight. UAS weighing between 15 and 25 kg may not be operated unless constructed under the authority of, or inspected and approved by, an approved person or organization. Such UAS must be operated in compliance with a list of operating limits enumerated by law. The operation of UAS that weigh more than 25 kg, and the operation of any size UAS outside of the operating limits, requires an unmanned aircraft operator certificate from the Civil Aviation Authority.

H. South Africa

South Africa permits the use of what are known as Class-1 and Class-2 UAS, which are further divided into subclasses, for private, commercial, corporate and nonprofit operations. The level of both technical and operational requirements that apply to UAS in South Africa differs based on the type of operation. For instance, a private operation may only be conducted using a Class-1A UAS (less than 1.5 kg in weight) or Class-1B UAS (less than 7 kg in weight). Private operations are exempt from various requirements applicable to other operations, including the need to obtain a letter of approval, certification of registration, and UAS operator certificate. The level of restrictions applicable to a UAS operation is also related to the complexity of the operation in question. Additional restrictions apply to operations in a controlled airspace and beyond visual line of sight (VLOS).

I. Ukraine

In Ukraine all aircraft, including UAS, that are owned by a legal entity incorporated in Ukraine or by a natural person resident in Ukraine, or rented or leased by a Ukrainian operator from the nonresident owner, must be registered, with the exception of those having a maximum take-off weight not exceeding 20 kg that are used for entertainment and sports activities.

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III. Jurisdiction

The countries surveyed usually implement aviation regulations through their national civil aviation authorities. While in most countries the regulation of UAS falls under the jurisdiction of the national government, local authorities in various countries may also have a role in approving UAS operations within their jurisdiction.

In New Zealand, for example, local authorities and the Department of Conservation may decide whether consent to operate unmanned aircraft in public areas within their jurisdiction is required. Similarly in South Africa every operation that needs the Civil Aviation Authority Director’s approval may require the approval of local authorities. This applies, for example, to the use of a public road as a takeoff or landing ground. All local laws that relate to various aspects of UAS operation are also applicable.

Local authorities in the United Kingdom have differed with regard to their level of involvement. Some local authorities appear not to have published any guidance on the use of drones in their localities. Other local authorities specifically require UAS owners to comply with the Air Navigation Order and the Civil Aviation Authority requirements for licenses for commercial flights. Local authorities also have the ability to introduce policies to regulate the use of UAS on any land owned by the authority. Refusal to comply with local authorities in the city of Leicester, for example, will result in the removal of the person from the relevant property in accordance with the city’s by-laws.

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IV. UAS Registration and Labeling

Several countries surveyed have or are in the process of requiring the registration and labeling of certain UAS. In Sweden all UAS must be marked either with the name and telephone number of the operator as well as the certification number (where applicable), or with the registration number in the case of unmanned aircraft certified for use outside the view of the operator.

A proposal by the Israeli Civil Aviation calls for the establishment of a register that would include all UAS owned by Israeli citizens or by Israeli corporations that have received authorization to deal with UAS in Israel. The proposal also calls for labeling UAS with information confirming their Israeli registration, the name of the manufacturer, and the registration number. In addition, the proposal would require fire-resistant license plates in all UAS. The plates would contain specific identifying information including aircraft type, model, and serial number, as well as UAS authorization status.

A UAS registered in South Africa is considered to have South African nationality and it must be engraved with an identification plate including its nationality and registration marks. The South Africa Civil Aviation Technical Standards include additional particulars on the required identification plates and display of marks, including the appropriate colors and fonts, location, allocation, and specification of marks.

The German Ministry of Transportation and Digital Infrastructure is currently working on legislation that would require all UAS weighing more than 0.5 kg to be registered in order to be able to hold the operator/owner accountable if the UAS is used in an unsafe manner or for illegal purposes.

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V. Flight Authorization Information

The level of information and documentation required under the laws of the countries surveyed varies. For example, in Canada a request for operating a UAS generally requires identification of the person designated by the applicant to have operational control over the operation. Other required information includes the method by which the operation manager may be contacted directly during operation, the type and purpose of the operation, the altitudes and routes to be used on the approach and departure to and from the area where the operation will be carried out, and other necessary identifying details regarding the planned operation.

In France an application for a permit to fly UAS for experimental and testing purposes must include a description of the proposed conditions of the experimental flights, and of the measures taken to ensure the safety of third parties both on the ground and in the air. Authorization for UAS operation for commercial uses requires certification of the design indicating that adequate analysis and tests have been conducted to ensure safe use of the UAS. The operation of UAS also requires a declaration by the operator describing the activity for which the UAS is being used.

In Germany, an application for either general or specific authorization must identify, in the case of an individual’s applicant, his/her name, address and date and place of birth. For a business, the application must include the name of the company, as well as the name, address, and date and place of birth of the registered agent and of all employees who will operate the UAS. The application must also include the reason for the operation of the UAS and provide proof of sufficient insurance for personal and property damage as required by law.

In addition to the information required for a general authorization, an applicant for a specific flight authorization in Germany must provide specific geographical and technical data on the UAS’s planned operation and the operator’s skills; a data privacy statement; and authorizations from the relevant competent regulatory or police agency or the competent nature conservation authority, if applicable.

While operators of small unmanned aircraft are generally not required to seek prior approval in New Zealand, certain requirements apply for UAS weighing between 15 and 25 kg. Operators of UAS weighing over 25 kg in that country are subject to more extensive requirements. Issuance of an operating certificate for these types of UAS requires identification of the person with primary responsibility for the operation; details of the physical locations to be used in the operation; information on known and likely hazards to people, property, and other aircraft; an assessment of risks associated with those hazards; and a description of the measures that can be implemented to mitigate or manage the risks. Proof of the knowledge, competence, and fitness of the personnel involved is also required. Details of the aircraft type, identification and control system to be used, and operational procedures and airworthiness assessments are also required.

The operation of a UAS for nonprivate purposes in South Africa requires a letter of approval (RLA) and a certificate of registration. An RLA requires that the applicant submit documentation regarding the UAS’s design and safety-related standards.

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VI. UAS Operator Qualifications

Several of the countries surveyed impose specific requirements regarding UAS operators’ qualifications.

To be eligible for operating a UAS in Australia, operators must obtain certain qualifications, complete certain training, and have a minimum number of hours of experience flying UAS. Entities wishing to obtain an operator’s certificate to operate large UAS or smaller (nonexcluded) UAS for nonrecreational purposes must have the facilities, procedures, and personnel needed to operate the UAS safely.

In France UAS operators for “particular [commercial] activities” are generally required to have a certificate of theoretical competence for flying a manned aircraft. They are similarly required to have passed a practical training course. Pilots of UAS flown within a horizontal distance of no more than 1 kilometer from the pilot are subject to additional requirements, which include having a manned aircraft pilot’s license, and a specified term of practical piloting experience. The pilots of drones other than tethered aerostats weighing more than 25 kg must perform a demonstration flight before an agent of the ministry in charge of civil aviation before they are authorized to perform the flight.

In Germany the issue of a specific authorization for the operation of a UAS that weigh between 5 and 25 kilograms requires the applicant to provide information on the operator’s knowledge and experience, or proof of training.

All aircraft operators, including UAS operators, in Israel must meet certain conditions concerning residence and citizenship, place of incorporation, and location of primary business, as relevant. Additional requirements for licensing of commercial operations include possession of the aircraft and necessary equipment for its operation, and authorization for flying and landing in designated areas in Israel. In addition, a concept paper published by the Israeli Civil Aviation Agency called for incorporating the requirements provided by Circular 328 AN/190 of the International Civil Aviation Organization into regulations that would require a UAS operator to acquire a license containing a specified authorization for the type of activity and equipment involved. Conditions for the issuance of flight licenses would accordingly include a minimum number of prior takeoffs and landings, depending on the type of flight, in the ninety days preceding the flight. Furthermore, the type of licenses issued would be based on the characteristics of the operator—for example, trainee, flyer of a UA subject to VLOS, UAS flyer, and UAS instructor; on the type of flight (domestic, external, experimental); and on the UAS type, category, and class.

According to a New Zealand Advisory Circular, the knowledge and skills needed for the operation of UAS that weigh more than 25 kg or that operate outside of general operating limits may be demonstrated by different qualifications or licenses and/or by the completion of certain training, as well as evidence of relevant experience.

Operators of commercial UAS flights in Poland must have a certificate of competency from the Polish Civil Aviation Authority. The certificate will be issued to individuals who have passed a medical check-up, taken theoretical and practical tests, and have insurance. The certificate of competency can be limited to certain weight ranges (from less than 2 kg to less than 150 kg) and classes of UAS (airplane, helicopter, airship, or multirotor). Obtaining a VLOS operation certificate requires the applicant to sign a declaration of knowledge of relevant regulations and basic theory (airspace, emergencies, flight rules, etc.), and pass theoretical and practical tests conducted by a CAA examiner. A certificate of competency for BVLOS operation allows a pilot to fly beyond VLOS and requires the applicant to take training courses in addition to successfully passing theoretical and practical tests.

In Sweden operating a UAS weighing more than 7 kg within VLOS requires that the operator be eighteen years old. Operating a certified UAS outside of VLOS requires the operator to be at least twenty-one years old and no more than sixty-seven years old, and to hold a certain level of medical certificate attesting to his/her health. In addition to age and health requirements, where applicable, operators must be certified by the Swedish Transport Agency as having completed an unmanned aerial system educational program. General guidelines also require that the pilot have knowledge of the flight safety standards laid down by the Executive Director of the European Aviation Safety Agency.

A valid UAS license is required for commercial, corporate, and nonprofit operations of UAS in South Africa. To obtain a UAS pilot’s license applicants must be eighteen years of age or older. They similarly must hold current medical assessments and present evidence of having successfully completed necessary training. Applicants must also pass the UAS practical assessment and radiotelephony examination, as well as an English language proficiency test. Other professionals operating UAS are subject, among other requirements, to various security reviews, including background checks and periodic criminal record checks.

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VII. Operational Requirements

A review of the individual country surveys indicates a variety of operational requirements. The following are some examples.

A. Spatial Restrictions

UAS may generally not be flown above people and public gatherings in several of the countries surveyed, including in France, Germany, Japan, Poland, and the United Kingdom. Restrictions on flights over sensitive locations such as military installations, airfield traffic zones, prisons, and nuclear power plants were identified in many of the countries, including in France, Israel, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, South Africa, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. Absent prior authorization, flights are also prohibited over specified historical monuments and/or national parks or natural reserves in France, Israel, and Sweden.

Regulation of UAS operations in airport-controlled zones are found in a variety of countries including China, Germany, Israel, Japan, Poland, and Sweden.

A detailed list of specified areas designated as prohibited, restricted, and dangerous for flying is available in Israel. The list provides relevant geographical coordinates, as well as minimum and maximum flight altitudes over designated areas. Similar designations of areas that are prohibited, restricted, and dangerous are indicated under Chinese laws and regulations. A detailed map illustrating where the flying of UAS is restricted in Sweden is maintained by the Air Navigation Services of Sweden.

B. Radio Communication

Several countries surveyed regulate radio frequencies that can be used by UAS. For example, China is identified as a country that allocates specific radio frequency spectrum to UAS flights. Similarly, according to New Zealand’s radio spectrum management agency, UAS must use certain radio frequencies to avoid harmful interference with vital radio systems such as those used by air traffic control, cellular phones, or emergency services.

In Sweden all frequencies used by UAS must be preapproved by the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority. Polish telecommunications law requires a license if the UAS uses certain frequencies for communication, although most UAS use frequencies that do not require a license.

South Africa requires all UAS operations to be conducted within a radio line of sight. Additionally, the air-band radio must have the required output and be configured in such a way that the range, strength of transmission, and quality of communication extends beyond the furthest likely position of the UAS from the pilot. Additional requirements may apply depending on the specific operation in question.

The United Kingdom considers UAS as model control equipment subject to the use of frequencies of the 35 MHz band, which is solely dedicated to aeronautic modeling. Regulations require that model control equipment must not cause undue interference with other wireless telegraphy equipment. The use of these specific frequencies for model control in the United Kingdom is exempt from the requirement to hold a license under its Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 as long as the model meets certain conditions, such as operating within the designated frequencies, and the equipment must be marked lawfully in accordance with the CE marking and comply with all relevant EU directives.

C. Visual Line of Sight

The country surveys reflect different approaches to maintaining VLOS between the UAS and its operator.

The operation of any type of UAS in Australia usually requires that the operator maintain a VLOS unless prior approval is granted.

In China UAS flying within VLOS must be operated in the daytime. Such a requirement does not apply to UAS flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), but a certain regulatory framework for addressing emergencies applies to BVLOS flights. Both UAS flying within VLOS and BVLOS must give way to manned aircraft.

The maintenance of VLOS between the operator and the UAS is generally required in Germany, where UAS cannot weigh more than 25 kilograms and must be kept within VLOS at all times.

Japan requires operators of all UAS that weigh over 200 grams to monitor the UAS and its surroundings with their own eyes at all times.

In New Zealand, UAS may be flown without the need for an operating certificate if they weigh less than 25 kg and do not exceed certain operating limits. The operating limits include a requirement for the operator to maintain unaided VLOS with the aircraft. Flying any aircraft BVLOS requires an operating certificate.

In Poland a certificate of competency for UAS flight operators can allow for operation in VLOS or BVLOS conditions. If the weight exceeds 25 kg a permit to fly is required and operational restrictions may be applicable (e.g., VLOS only and/or minimum distance from populated areas, people, and property).

Swedish rules generally require UAS lighter than 7 kg that do not create more than a specified level of kinetic energy to be flown within visual sight of the operator.

In South Africa a BVLOS operation is permitted only by special approval based on certain requirements, which vary depending on whether the operation is in or outside of a controlled airspace.

In the United Kingdom UAS weighing less than 20 kg are required to maintain a direct, unaided, visual contact that is sufficient to monitor the flight path of a small unmanned aircraft in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels, and structures in order to avoid collisions.

D. Safety Features

Safety devices are required to be installed in UAS in several countries.

For example, France requires a certification of design as a precondition for the operation of UAS. France also imposes a number of safety requirements that apply specifically to certain types of UAS use. Among the requirements for the issuance of a certificate of design outside a populated area, where no third party is within the area of operation, and within a horizontal distance of no more than 1 kilometer from the pilot, is that the UAS would have an automatic system to prevent it from going beyond the horizontal distance limits of the flight, or would have an alarm system to warn the pilot when it goes beyond those limits.

The use of UAS of 2 kg or more in a populated area in France, but without flying over any third party, staying within the pilot’s line of sight, and within a horizontal distance of no more than 100 meters from the pilot, requires the UAS to be equipped with a system to protect third parties. This system is supposed to automatically activate if the UAS lands by itself following a loss of contact with the pilot. UAS of a weight of 4 kg or more would additionally have to have equipment to ensure that the pilot can know the aircraft’s speed. This equipment must be independent from the UAS main control link, and there must be an audible alarm to warn of the UAS’s fall.

In Sweden all uses of UAS require that they be equipped with an emergency device, enabling shutdown of the UAS if needed. An override system must also be available for UAS with an automated flight system. Additional safety devices including protection against misleading signals either from an outside source or from weather phenomena, availability of transponders, and a compatible anticollision systems, among other things, are required for certain types of UAS in Sweden.

E. Insurance

Several countries require UAS operators to acquire insurance covering liability for third parties on the ground. Such countries include China, Germany, Poland, Sweden, South Africa, and the United Kingdom (for UAS of more than 20 kg).

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VIII. Real-Time Supervision System: The Electric Fence and UAS Cloud

Among the countries surveyed China was the only country identified as requiring the installation of an “electric fence” that stops certain UAS from entering specific prohibited areas. China also requires such UAS to be connected to a “UAS Cloud,” which has an alarm function that is activated when flights cross the electric fence. The frequency of reporting by operators depends on their weight and ability to operate within a designated area beyond VLOS.

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IX. Privacy

Privacy concerns regarding UAS operations have been raised by the European Parliament and other EU bodies, informed by EU and Member State legislation on personal data protection and privacy which impose strict standards on the processing of personal data.

Such concerns are also reflected in the laws of some of the surveyed countries. German air traffic regulation and common principles put particular emphasis on the observance of data privacy and data protection rules. UAS operations that violate these rules will not be authorized. Similarly, principles contained in the New Zealand Privacy Act can apply where an operation involves filming or recording of people.

As in Germany and New Zealand, the operation of UAS in Sweden for recording purposes may be restricted because of privacy rights considerations. The Swedish Administrative Supreme Court is set to decide whether the use of cameras on UAS constitutes “camera surveillance” as defined in Swedish law. The Swedish Parliament is also in an initial phase of considering amendments to legislation regarding privacy in connection with camera surveillance, with the Justice Department having published a Committee Directive in 2015.

The privacy rules with regard to the use of UAS technology by individuals for collecting or recording information in Australia seem to be currently uncertain. In 2014, a parliamentary committee recommended a review of the relevant legislation, but no changes have been proposed to date. A survey of the relevant law in France, Israel, or Japan similarly does not indicate any special regulation on this topic.

Although Polish regulations do not address the issue of personal data protection and privacy concerning the use of UAS, flights above another person’s property may constitute an infringement of personal rights.

In the United Kingdom the recording of images obtained via UAS could potentially breach the obligations contained in the Data Protection Act and the CCTV Code of Practice, which address certain aspects of the use of drones that collect information about individuals. Businesses that use UAS that process personal information are required by the Data Protection Act to be listed on the Data Protection Public Register. Furthermore, flying of UAS registered outside of the United Kingdom over the UK for the purposes of aerial photography or aerial surveys is prohibited in the absence of a special authorization.

The specific rules on handling of UAS are outlined in the attached surveys of legislation in individual countries and under EU law.


Prepared by Ruth Levush
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
April 2016


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Last Updated: 07/22/2016