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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.

An comparative summary and a bibliography are also provided.


Australia has regulated unmanned aircraft since 2002.  The relevant regulations are being substantially revised in 2016, including new rules related to using remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) for nonrecreational purposes that come into force in September 2016.  The new rules provide for commercial operations of very small RPA (weighing less than 2 kilograms/4.4 pounds) to be conducted without the need for a remote pilot license or operator’s certificate, provided that these are operated under the standard conditions established in the new regulations. 

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In Canada, the regulation of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government.  UAVs are mainly regulated by the Canadian Aviation Regulations and standards, guidelines, and circulars issued by Transport Canada. The applicable rules and the necessity for a UAV operator to have a special flight operations certificate depend upon the use of the UAV (recreational vs. nonrecreational), its weight, and whether particular exemptions apply. 

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The December 2015 Interim Provisions on Light and Small Unmanned Aircraft Operations issued by China’s civil flight regulatory agency, the Civil Aviation Administration of China, regulate the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) with a maximum empty weight of 116 kilograms or less, or a maximum take-off gross weight of 150 kilograms or less, and a calibrated air speed of no greater than 100 kilometers per hour.  UAS weighing 1.5 kilograms or less are generally not required to follow the Provisions. 

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The use of civilian drones in France is governed by regulations that separate civilian drone use into three categories: hobby and competition flying, flying for experimental and testing purposes, and “particular activities,” which essentially means everything else, including commercial use of drones.  Drones of all categories are subject to strict geographic restrictions, the main purpose of which is to protect people, property, and other aircraft. 

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The German Air Traffic Act defines unmanned aerial systems (UAS) as unmanned aerial vehicles that are not used for hobby or recreational purposes.  The operation of a UAS that weighs more than 5 kilograms requires authorization from the aviation authority of the German state in question.  Authorization to fly will be granted if operation of the UAS does not present a risk to air safety or public safety or order, and if rules on data protection and privacy are not violated.  Operating a UAS that weighs more than 25 kilograms or operating it outside of the visual line of sight of the operator is generally prohibited.

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Israel’s Aviation Law regulates the operation and manufacturing of all aircraft, including unmanned aircraft (UA) in Israel.  The Law imposes licensing requirements on flight operators, aviation instructors, manufacturers, and all other persons engaged in aviation. Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAAI) controls the licensing and supervision of civilian flight operations, and maintains a special unit for UA operations.  The CAAI has issued a number of directives to regulate various aspects of UA activities, including flight altitude and authorized routes, required transmission devices, and procedures for the preapproval of flights.

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Japan recently amended its Aviation Act and passed a new law to regulate the flights of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).  UAVs are prohibited from flying near airports and over densely populated areas and important facilities.   

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New Zealand

In New Zealand, the regulation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) does not distinguish between commercial and recreational operations, but rather sets out standard operating requirements for any UAVs that weigh less than 55 pounds.  UAVs over this weight or operations that will exceed the standard operating requirements are subject to a certification process.  Permission must be obtained to fly in certain areas, and the consent of the relevant persons must be obtained before flying over people or private property. Other relevant rules with respect to flying UAVs over public land or spaces may be established by local authorities and the Department of Conservation.

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In Poland the operation of unmanned aircraft systems for commercial purposes requires the pilot to obtain a certificate of competence.  Systems weighing more than 25 kg must be certified and registered.  Operation in the proximity of airports and other special zones is restricted.  Flights below the visual line of sight of the operator are possible only in dedicated areas.   

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South Africa

South Africa’s Ministry of Transportation and Civil Aviation is the remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) regulatory agency.  Its powers include the authority to enact aviation regulations, set safety and security standards, issue all required licenses and permits, and develop enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with all relevant laws and standards.  South Africa permits different forms of RPAS operations: private, commercial, corporate and nonprofit operations.   The level of restrictions is also related to the complexity of the operation in question.  Operations in a controlled airspace and beyond visual line-of-sight are subject to tighter restrictions.    

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Sweden regulates the manufacture, sale, import, export, and use of drones.  Regulations vary depending on the nature of the drone.  Heavier drones are more strictly regulated. Drones must only be operated during daylight within visible range from the operator, 120 meters off the ground and 50 meters away from other people, buildings, and other objects or areas worthy of protection.  Drones are not permitted in restricted airspace, such as airports and over prisons. 

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Despite the widespread use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Ukraine, no active steps to regulate the use of drones have been taken.  The only special rule applicable to drones is found in the Regulation on the Use of Airspace of Ukraine, which requires that those who use drones for aerial photography obtain special permission for UAV flights from the State Aerial Department and coordinate their flights with the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces. Apart from this rule, the general aviation regulation regime is applicable to UAV operations. 

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United Kingdom

The UK has a system of air navigation laws that apply to the use of drones.  These regulations aim to ensure the safety of individuals around drones.  There are stricter regulations in place for drones that carry a camera on board and record data.  The rules are actively enforced by the Civil Aviation Authority.  While no new legislative initiatives are currently pending, the UK is in the process of exploring additional options for the regulation of drone use.

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European Union

Currently, the European Union (EU) does not regulate the civilian use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) with a mass of 150 kg or less.  Such aircraft are governed by national rules adopted by the EU Member States.  RPA above the threshold of 150 kg fall within the mandate of the European Aviation Safety Agency.  The European Parliament and other EU bodies strictly regulate the processing of personal data and the right to private life.  Operators of drones will be subject to tougher standards and requirements contained in the Data Protection Regulation, which will take effect in the summer of 2016. 

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020