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Drone Laws in The European Union (Updated for 2023)

Updated in 2023 by Paul Posea
European drone laws

We all know Europe is home to breathtaking views. Views you can’t help but want to shoot with your drone. Before you get ready to fly your drone however you should be familiar with the current legal landscape regarding drone use in the European union.

The view of governments regarding drones have gotten a lot more lax nowadays than they were before, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still laws that you must respect when flying your drone.

By the end of this, you’ll have a clear idea of what you can or cannot do. Let’s get into it.

Can you fly your drone in the EU?

A pretty basic question but we need to answer that first before moving on. While some countries in the EU frown upon drone use, flying your drone in the European Union is perfectly legal and you won’t get into trouble, provided you follow the rules set in place by the EU and by the specific country in question.

Drones in the European Union are regulated by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). They’re based in Germany and can be contacted at info@easa.europa.eu / +49 221 8999 000.

Do I need to register my drone in the European Union?

Drone registration is the process of registering your drone under your name with the applicable authorities who regulate drone use. A measure that is usually put in place in case any accidents happen. 

Drone registration is a mandatory procedure in the European union. Whether you’re a foreigner or EU resident. Though the process changes depending on the nationality.

Drone registration for EU residents

If you live in any of the 31 EASA member states and have already registered your drone in your home country, you don’t need to register again in another European country. Your unique drone operator registration ID can be used on all your drones throughout all EASA member states. 

The only thing you need is for your unique drone identifier (that you received upon registration) to be properly visible on your drone.

Drone registration for non-EU residents

If you’re a foreigner traveling to the EU, you’ll need to register as a drone operator with the National Aviation Authority (NAA) in the EASA state in which you intend to operate.

According to EU’s new drone regulations, this registration will automatically become valid across the rest of EASA member states, saving you the trouble of registering again when you visit another member country.

One thing to keep in mind, before you fly your drone, you’ll need to train and pass the European drone pilot’s certificate online exam, and get a remote pilot competency certificate. This you can get from any NAA.

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General rules and regulations for flying drones in the European Union

While the regulations put in place by the EASA is more of a “surface regulation”. The actual specific flying rules are put into place by the local authorities in the country you intend to fly in.

According to my research, there are some rules that are pretty common across all E.U countries, rules like:

  • There is usually a max altitude (often 150m) that you can’t exceed.
  • You should always maintain visual line of sight and keep the drone within your sights. An exception usually can be made for FPV drones that are below 250g in weight.
  • To fly at night, you’ll probably need a permit.
  • Drone insurance is often obligatory for all drones.
  • Drones over 250g in weight must be registered.
  • Drones may not be flown over crowds, industrial areas, disaster areas, prisons, residential areas, certain traffic routes, and several other areas designated as sensitive.
  • You can’t fly your drone above or horizontally within 100-150m from federal highways, federal waterways, and railway facilities.
  • Natural conservation areas are off limits for drone flight unless you have permission from the relevant authorities.

These rules are subject to change depending which country we’re talking about. In Italy for example, you can fly your drone at night without a permit as long as it’s below 5kg in weight. So make sure you check the local laws before flying.

Drone categorization in the European Union

Under the EASA new drone regulations, drones have been separated into three categories, with each category having its own set of rules and laws. These categories are as follows: Open, Specific & Certified. In this section I’ll attempt to explain what each category is and the laws pertaining to it.

The “Open” category

This is the first and most common drone operation category. Operations in the open category do not require prior authorizations or pilot license. However, they are limited to operations. Drones flying in the Open category will further be separated into classes with each class having some restrictions of its own.

So what makes a drone in the Open category? a drone can be considered in the “Open” category if it fills the following conditions:

  • Your drone has one the class identification labels from 0 to 4 (I go more into this in my E.U drone laws article).
  • Your drone was purchased before January 2023.
  • Your drone’s maximum lift-off weight is 25kg or less.
  • You as a pilot always keep your drone away from people (your type of operations don't need proximity to people).
  • You’ll always maintain a visual line of sight.
  • You won’t fly your drone over 120m in the air (or you can’t, since some drones restrict flight by altitude).
  • Lastly, your drone won’t carry any dangerous or explosive material.

So in essence, when it comes to the Open category:

  • You must register with the National Aviation Authority (NAA) of the first EU country where you intend to fly your drone.
  • The unique identifier issued by the NAA must be displayed with a sticker on all of your drones and then uploaded into the ‘Remote Identification System’ of your drone.
  • Your registration is valid for use in all EASA member states.
  • You must follow drone regulations that are specific to each member state.

We’re still not done with the open category. There are actually three sub-categories that are considered “Open”. A1, A2 & lastly A3. Each of them has additional rules you should take note of.

The way the subcategory is determined is based on the class identification label of your drone. I haven’t gotten in-depth into what drone classes are but they’re basically identifiers issued by the manufacturers themselves.Drones bearing a class identification label are progressively appearing on the market.

You can read up more on that here. Just keep in mind that come January 1st of 2023, having a class number on your drone will be mandatory (refer to this page for more details).

Open sub-category A1:

A drone can fly under the open sub-category A1 if it follows these conditions:

  • The drone is marked with class identification label 0 or 1.
  • Drones marked as Class 1 should be registered with the EASA.
  • The takeoff weight of a C0 drone doesn’t exceed 250 grams.
  • The takeoff weight of a C1 drone doesn’t exceed 900 grams.
  • Flight speed does not exceed 19 m/s (42 mph).
  • The drone is not operated over crowds of people or in areas where drone operations are prohibited in a member state.

Open sub-category A2:

A drone can fly under the open sub-category A2 if it follows these conditions:

  • The drone is marked with class identification label 2.
  • The operator of the drone is at least 16 years of age and is registered with the EASA.
  • The C2 drone’s max takeoff weight does not exceed 4kg.
  • The drone is not operated over crowds of people or in areas where drone operations are prohibited in a member state.
  • Flights are kept a horizontal distance of 30 m away from uninvolved people. (uninvolved meaning not part of the flight operation)

Open sub-category A3:

A drone can fly under the open sub-category A3 if it follows these conditions:

  • The drone is marked with class identification label 3 or 4.
  • The operator of the drone is at least 16 years of age and is registered with the EASA.
  • The C3-4 drone’s max takeoff weight does not exceed 4kg.
  • The drone is not operated over crowds of people or in areas where drone operations are prohibited in a member state.
  • Flights are kept a horizontal distance of 150 m away from uninvolved people. (uninvolved meaning not part of the flight operation)

Alright that’s a lot to cover in one category. But we still have one thing to go over which is training requirements. 

Training requirements for drones in the “Open” category

For drones of Class 0:

When it comes to drones of class 0 i.e sub 250 grams drones. All you need to do is be familiar with the drone's manual issued by its manufacturer (not that you’ll be quizzed about it).

For drones of Class 1 & sub-category A3:

Drones that fall under this umbrella have a little more requirements before you can fly them.

  • You must be familiar with the manufacturer’s manual/instructions for operating the drone. (like in Class 0)
  • You must complete an online training course provided by the National Aviation Authority within the EASA country where you intend to fly.
  • You must complete an online theoretical knowledge examination (at the end of the online training) before you can fly your drone.

You must have noticed that I didn’t include the A2 sub-category above. That’s because pilots operating underA2 will be required to take additional steps in order to be compliant with training requirements. In addition to the above, you must:

  • Complete practical training by yourself in order to familiarize yourself with the drone and ensure you reach a good level of control. Sometimes the actual period of this training is set by the local authorities. For example, in Denmark you need to have 5 hours of flight time to be considered as having a good level of control.
  • Complete an additional theoretical knowledge examination that will be provided in a facility identified by the NAA. You’ll then receive a ‘Certificate of Remote Pilot Competency’ upon completion of the exam.

The test consists of 30 multiple choice questions and is fairly easy to complete.

Here is a recap of all that we’ve gone over to make it easy for you to remember.

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This wraps up the “Open” category. Let’s look at the “Specific” category now…

The “Specific” category 

You’re flying under the Specific category when the operation you want to conduct exceeds the restrictions of the “Open” category. You’d be conducting medium risk operations and will likely have to perform risk assessments provided by the EASA prior to your flight.

In this category, you’ll typically be flying a drone that weighs more than 25 kg and/or operates beyond visual line of sight.

A drone can be operated under the specific category if:

  • You’re operating under a Standard Scenario issued by EASA or their National Aviation Authority (NAA). (an emergency situation, for example).
  • In case you’re not operating under a Standard Scenario, you should conduct a predefined risk assessment (PDRA) prior to the operation and receive approval from the NAA.
  • You’ve been granted a Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC).

Training requirements for drones under the “Specific” category

When it comes to the specific category, training will vary depending on the intended operation (it’s called “specific” for a reason). Here are two requirements that I could find but these only apply to a Standard Scenario.

  • You must hold a Certificate of Remote Pilot Theoretical Knowledge.
  • You must also hold an accreditation of completion of the STS-01 practical skill training.

Note: A Standard Scenario (STS) is a predefined operation, described in an appendix to EU regulation 2019/947. To date two STSs have been published, STS 1 and STS 2,  and they require use of a drone with class identification label C5 or C6 respectively.

You can learn more about that by going here.

The “Certified” category

The “certified” category is for high risk operations involving large drones in controlled airspaces. Rules applicable to the “certified” category are the same as for manned aviation. 

Drone operations are classified as “Certified” when the following conditions are met:

  • The drone is certified pursuant to points (a), (b), and (c) of paragraph 1 of Article 40 of Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945.
  • The operation is conducted over large groups of people.
  • The operation involves the transport of humans.
  • The operation involves transporting dangerous goods that could result in a high risk in the event of an accident.
  • Operations can also be considered “Certified” based on the risk assessment provided  in Article 11, which considers that the risk of the operation cannot be adequately mitigated without the certification of the UAS and of the UAS operator and, where applicable, without the licensing of the remote pilot.

“Certified” operations provide a high degree of risk and therefore proper requirements and training haven’t been issued yet. You can learn more about that by going to this page.

Can my drone be tracked in Europe?

We’ve covered a lot in this article so far. Lots of rules, lots of regulations… You might be thinking that they’re too restrictive. I don’t blame you.

You might also be thinking if you can just ignore them. Well, that may be a bad idea…

There is a big chance that the EASA can track your drone within Europe. There are also spots where they're able to hack your drone “real time” as it flies past, forcing it to land or self-destruct (crash). Usually, the serial number in the wreckage is enough to tie it back to you.

But honestly, there is no reason why you’d want to break the rules. Most of them are just common sense and don’t hinder your ability to enjoy your drone in any way.

Traveling outside Europe with your drone 

If you’re a EU resident, and more specifically within an EASA member state and you’re traveling outside the EASA zone, you’ll need to follow the respective country’s local legislation and drone regulation.

Don’t worry though, in most EU countries the procedure is actually the same. Registering your drone with the local authorities will almost always be mandatory for drones over 250 grams, and your ID/passport will most likely be required as well before you’re able to fly (at least legally).

The best plan of action when traveling to a new country is always looking up their drone regulations on the internet, or contacting the agency that regulates drone use directly!

Conclusion

We’ve covered a LOT in this article. I hope this amount of info dump didn’t confuse you, but when it comes to laws, knowing more is always better than knowing less. Truth be told, most times if you just follow common sense, keep your drone in your sights and not exceed a 150m altitude, you’ll be good to go.

I hope you have a clear idea on drone laws within the E.U at this point. Happy flying!

author-paul-posea-picture
Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.
paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.

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