Game of drones

This article was published in the Innovations magazine #6.

In the space of 15 years, the humble drone has gone from hastily improvised weapon of war to a cornerstone of navigation, meteorology and civil surveillance. However, that speed has left some authorities running to catch up when it comes to devising and implementing the necessary laws and guidelines surrounding the wider civilian use of drones.

 Despite concerted efforts to adopt generally accepted guidelines, confusion still reigns. Take Europe: a fully pan-European set of UAV laws has yet to emerge, and local laws stymie attempts to decide a set of EU laws. When that is achieved, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is likely to define drones by usage rather than weight, an approach which is at odds with the rest of the world.  

However, progress is being made, albeit slowly. Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS) which is currently chaired by EASA, has issued a guidance document on recommendations for a single set of technical, safety and operational requirements on drones which will look at issues from pilots’ licences to inspections of airworthiness. Watch this space.


The European Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) Technical Opinion proposals establish three distinct groups, each of which work under a different level of oversight. These are:
• ‘Open’ category (low risk): minimal rules, defining limits for operations, to be overseen by the police.
Authorisation from a National Aviation Authority (NAA) would not be required, even for commercial operations.
•‘Specific operation’ category (medium risk): would need authorisation from an NAA. Each risk would be analysed and mitigated via a safety risk assessment.
• ‘Certified’ category (higher risk): rules similar to manned aircraft (e.g. pilot’s licence and certification required).
In September 2016, a string of aviation associations called for all small drones in Europe to be registered. In May 2017, the EASA began a public consultation on new proposed Basic Regulation for UAVs in the EU which will regulate all UAVs regardless of their maximum take-off mass. New regulations are likely to be adopted in 2018.

Source: EASA
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New regulation, which came into force in March 2016 is reported to include the following provisions:
• All unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with a maximum takeoff weight of 0.55 pounds should be registered.
• Users of registered UAVs will have to write a flight plan and submit it to the regional body.
• Every UAV must have a twoperson crew: a pilot and observer.

Source: RT


In August 2016, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued new regulations on the use of commercial UAVs. Central to the rules are:

• Maximum speed of each unmanned aircraft (100 miles/hour).
• Maximum weight: 25 kg.
• Maximum altitude: 400 feet above ground level. If higher, remain within 400 feet of a structure.
• Operators must stay out of airport flight paths and restricted airspace areas, and obey any FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions.
• Crucially, the regulations also require that drone operators maintain a “visual line-of-sight” with each drone that they fly.

Source: US FAA
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United Arab Emirates

Regulations prohibit any “man-made object” from flying above a height of 200 feet above ground level within 8 kilometers of an airport, or 300 feet above ground level elsewhere within the United Arab Emirates, unless approved by the Emirate Department of Civil Aviation. Operators are also only permitted to fly during daytime and in good weather conditions.

Source: UAE General Civil Aviation Authority


Commercial drones are currently banned. However, Brazil’s National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC) has divided other UAVs into three classes:

For Class 1 (drones weighing over 150 kg) and Class 2 (drones weighing 25-150 kg) the following rules apply:

• Drones must be certified by ANAC (not Class 2).
• Each drone must be registered with the Brazilian Aeronautical Registry (RAB).
• Pilots must have an aeronautical medical certificate (CMA), a permit and licence.
• Each drone flight must be registered. For Class 3 (drones weighing up to 25 kg) the following rules apply:
• Drones operating below 120 m height only need to be registered with a CMA.
• Must be flown within 30 m of operator.
• In urban areas and rural settlements, UAVs are permitted to fly no more than 60 m above ground level.

Source: ANAC
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India has an outright ban on the use of UAVs in its airspace. The authorities are working on a comprehensive set of UAV guidelines, but until then, all UAV activity must be cleared with the relevant security bodies.

Source: Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA

South Africa

UAVs are banned from flying within 50 m above or close to a person or crowd of people, structure or building without prior approval from the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

Additional rules apply, banning the use of UAVs adjacent to or above a:
• nuclear power plant
• prison
• police station
• crime scene
• court of law
• national key point.

Source: The Future of Commercial and Industrial UAVs; Valour Consultancy
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China allows all drones under 7 kg to fly unrestricted. For those over that weight, various restrictions apply:
For vehicles 7 kg–116 kg, a licence from the The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) is required, while any UAV weighing over 116 kg requires a pilot’s licence and UAV certification for operation. The use of commercial drones in China is regulated by the CAAC, and as such, approval is needed for all commercial UAV flights.

Source: The Future of Commercial and Industrial UAVs; Valour Consultancy


• All drone flights must be operated in daylight.
• For drones weighing between 2 kg and 25 kg, a permit is required.
• For drones weighing over 25 kg, a permit and pilot’s licence are required.

Source: Servicios a la Navegación en el Espacio Aéreo Mexicano (SENEAM)
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