Regulating Drones within the European Aviation Market

13 Aug 2015

3 min read

Drones, which are also known as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems or Unmanned Aircrafts have recently gained popularity across Europe and internationally. Today, drones are not only deployed for military purposes and for urban surveillance by enforcement authorities but private individuals and companies have realised that this innovative aerial technology has brought to the fore plenty of commercial advantages, such as delivery of services, the creation of employment opportunities, and the collection of data for marketing purposes.

However, the regulation of civilian drones is still in its early stages. Both the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Commission have been working on strengthening the regulatory regime. Both entities seek to draw attention to safety measures, security matters, and issues relating to insurance and liability.

Indeed, individual privacy and data may be at risk due to the fact that drones are often equipped with video cameras in order to permit the individual to fly the unmanned aircrafts. Naturally, images and recorded footage are stored and often shared on the web. When such data is captured, the right to privacy and data protection laws may be violated. Nowadays, journalists and private companies resort to this new technology in order to gather information for their own benefit.

To further enhance the regulatory regime, legislators within the European Union must include concrete legislation with respect to insurance and liability vis-à-vis drones. In order to safeguard civilian users, the safety aspects of such operations must be taken into account, along with realisation of the fact that accidents and injuries may lead to insurance disputes. Thus, victims would want to be satisfactorily compensated for their injuries and any damages inflicted upon their property.

As things stand today, regulation of drones within the European Union Member States is sporadic. Many Member States have drawn up their own notices and some states have amended their Aviation Act. Notably, The German Aviation Act has been amended to include the recognition of drones as aerial vehicles, with the exception of the use of drones for sporting activities and recreational purposes. Malta has also promulgated its own draft legal notice and unlike the German Aviation Act, the legislator included the utilisation of drones for sporting and recreational activities.

Nonetheless, the draft provides for its own exceptions. Indeed, the proposed regulations do not apply to drones:

  1. which are operated by the Armed Forces of Malta, the Maltese Police Force or the Department for Customs;
  2. which have a mass of more than 150 kg and are covered by the European Union Regulation 216/2008 on common rules in the field of civil aviation and establishing a European Aviation Safety Agency;
  3. operated on private property and not going above and beyond the height of the said property or its perimeter, or any other height allowances as allowed by the Director General;
  4. which fall within the Safety of Toys Regulation and which do not weigh more than 1000 grams and do not exceed a velocity of 24 km/hour;
  5. which may be exempt by the Director General.

The Authority for Transport in Malta has recently held that the draft legal notice might be further amended in order to embrace the new propositions highlighted by the public consultation. Locally, drone owners would have to eventually register their drones to carry out specialised operations and pay a fee to the same Authority.

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