3 Nations with a Head Start on Drone Legislation

3 Nations with a Head Start on Drone Legislation

Previously only used in military operations, drones are now available to everyday citizens for recreational purposes. Multiple industries, from agriculture to emergency services, are also exploring ways to harness the new technology. As a result of the increasing popularity of drones, the following countries are creating new aviation laws to regulate consumer and commercial drones:


France has a history of being at the forefront of legislation regarding aerial vehicles. When the Montgolfier Brothers launched their first hot-air balloon flight in 1784, their country quickly banned all unauthorized flights over Paris. Although the growth of the drone industry has outpaced that of relevant regulatory development in many cases, France was one of the first nations to draft comprehensive drone legislation covering both civilian and commercial use. The nation also provides one of the most welcoming environments for commercial drone use, with more than 1,250 registered commercial drone companies—more than any other country. Still, unlawful drone use in France can result in fines of up to 75,000 EUR, and up to five years in prison.

France officially added unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) governance to its civil aviation regulations in 2012. The laws allow for drone flights between altitudes of 50 and 150 meters. They also categorize drones into seven groups based on weight, beginning at under 25 kilograms and ending with vehicles exceeding 150 kilograms. In addition to weight, some of the groups classify drones based on whether they are connected to a tether or flown unrestrained.

For each UAV category, French regulations stipulate specific safety requirements, including features to protect bystanders in the event of a crash or malfunction. Additionally, all drones must remain within the operator’s line of sight during flight.

The United States

Both recreational and commercial drones are rapidly gaining popularity in the US. In fact, the Consumer Electronics Association recently estimated that the US could see 1 million drone flights each day by the year 2035.

In 2012, Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which outlines plans to integrate civil drones into the national airspace by the end of September 2015. The FAA organizes individual drone flights—not the vehicles themselves—into the following three categories based on operator and purpose:

* Public Operations

Flights classified as Public Operations must be owned and piloted by a public agency or organization and conducted for government purposes. To carry out a Public Operations flight, agencies must receive FAA authorization for the aircraft type, location, and purpose. This license can allow legal drone flights for up to two years.

* Civil Operations

Drone activity by non-governmental organizations is classified as Civil Operations. To gain approval, these entities must petition the FAA to gain exemption from US laws requiring aircraft and pilot certifications. As of August 2015, the FAA had approved Civil Operations exemptions across 48 states and 20 industries, with most exemptions provided in the real estate, agriculture, and construction sectors.

* Model Aircraft Operations

pilot controlled quadcopter droneThe FAA created the Model Aircraft Operations category to regulate drone flights for recreational or hobby purposes. However, it is important to note that if a drone collects videos or images for anything other than personal use, such as for journalistic purposes, it must be authorized for Civil Operations.

In order to qualify for Model Aircraft Operations, a UAV must weigh 55 pounds or less. Recreational operators need to keep drones below 400 feet, clear of obstacles, and within their line of sight at all times. Additionally, Model Aircraft Operations must remain at least five miles away from all airports, and must avoid people and crowded areas like stadiums.

Because regulations on hobby drone use are fairly lax in the United States, many local jurisdictions have sought firmer legislation to govern drone flights. These efforts are fueled in part by growing public concern over privacy, as recreational drone operators appear to have rather broad privileges where aerial photography and videography are concerned.

In response to disruptive UAV flights in the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Zion National Park, the US National Park Service has implemented a “no-drone” policy for the entire national park system. At present, the FAA is attempting to declare Washington, DC, a no-drone zone as well.

The United Kingdom

The United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) first addressed recreational drone use in the Air Navigation Order of 2009 and bolstered its regulations with the 2015 publication, “Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace – Guidance.” This legislation requires flights for aerial work to obtain authorization from the CAA, while units less than 20 kilograms require only a basic flying permit for non-commercial use. Drone hobbyists must follow certain altitude and location restrictions, with more stringent regulations applying to urban areas. They must adhere to basic safety guidelines, such as maintaining “direct, unaided visual contact” with their drones and remaining below 120 meters in altitude.

Operators of drones over 20 kilograms that wish to fly in populated areas must first obtain a Permit to Carry out Aerial Work from the CAA, which requires operator training and approval of the specific aircraft design. Additionally, commercial operators, including surveillance drones, must keep 150 meters away from congested areas or organized open-air assemblies comprising more than 1,000 people. They must also stay 50 meters away from any “vessel, vehicle, or structure.”