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Network News • 26-10-2020

Current Drone Legal Framework

Author: Jurgen Dalli – Junior Legal Associate, PKF Malta
Published on PKF Malta 27th October 2020

  • At present, in October 2020 there are essentially no specific set of rules and regulations that apply directly to drones.[1]
  • Nonetheless, there are some provisions found in the Air Navigation Order[2] which are also applicable to drone activities.
  • Malta does not differentiate commercial & leisure drone use. Thus, both are subject to a code of conduct & registration.
  • An individual may sign and submit a self-declaration form thereby allowing him or her to operate these drones in question within a prescribed amount of conditions and boundaries.[3]
  • A self-declaration permit will be applicable and valid for use for 6 months, after which another permit has to be applied for.
  • However, it may be possible that an individual requires to exceed these boundaries which are being imposed by the self-declaration form, in which case, one requires a one-off permit which is issued by the Director-General for Civil Aviation whereby a risk assessment will be conducted.
  • When applying for such a permit, a number of documents ought to be submitted, such as;
  • Type of drone (or drones) to be used
  • Submission of technical data or manual of instructions of each drone to be used
  • Submission of any flight safety programmes or operations manual that the operator may have
  • Submission of any previous authorisations from any other civil aviation authority or exemptions
  • Submission of details of the operator and proficiency of the drone pilots
  • Copy of the original signed insurance document for third party liability covering the scope and complexity of the requested operation covering the specific geographical areas/limits for such operation
  • Submission of a risk assessment identifying hazards and the mitigations to be put in place on how to protect aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels, and property.
  • Past a number of boundaries, one would require the permission of the Civil Aviation Directorate in order to fly a drone. One of these instances materializes when the drone weighs more than 250 grams, in which case a permit is required in order to fly the drone in question.
  • Having said that, since all drones having attached with it or incorporated with it; a camera more often than not will require a permit as these would generally weigh more than 250 grams due to the added weight of the camera.
  • Hence, it is the case that those drones being used for commercial purposes and activities will require a permit in order to fly such drones by the Civil Aviation Directorate.
  • Drones weighing 25kgs or more cannot be used altogether.[4]
  • Similar to when driving a car, when manning a drone, one should also provide valid drone insurance.
  • When it comes to distances regulations, one’s drone must always be within visual line of sight and cannot exceed or be more than 300 meters apart from the person who is manning the drone and cannot exceed 60 meters above ground level.
  • Furthermore, no drones can be flown within an airport without permission from the Civil Aviation Directorate and a distance of 5km from such establishment must be kept at all time.[5]
  • For data protection purposes as well as privacy purposes, drones are to be kept a distance of 50m from persons, vehicles, ships, and structures who are not involved in the flying of the drone.
  • In fact, drone pilots should be aware that the collection of images of identifiable individuals, even inadvertently, when using cameras mounted on small drones, may be subject to Malta’s Data Protection Act[6].
  • Although extended, there is also a distance capping on certain establishments such as police properties, military and industrial plants, power plants, hospitals, embassies and consulates, ports, buildings of international organizations, and crowds having at least 12 people; in these cases, the minimum distance the pilot must adhere to is 120 meters.[7]
  • Moreover, drones ought to be manned in such a manner as to have a clear view of where the drone is and have clear sight, hence, drones may not be flown during the night-time unless the view is very visible.[8]
  • Flying drones is strictly prohibited in Maltese nature reserves.
  • Therefore, the regulations mentioned above such as the rule of having 50 meters distance from persons and the drone would not be applicable for commercial drones if such persons are part of the activities which the drone is being flown for.
  • Following the introduction of the Basic Regulation 2018/1139 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 July 2018 on common rules in the field of civil aviation and establishing a European Union Aviation Safety Agency[9], the Commission took it upon itself to establish rules for unmanned aircraft, whilst ensuring the institutional, regulatory and architectural framework with the aim of enabling complex drone operations.
  • The following year the Delegated Regulations (EU)2019/945 of 12 March 2019 on unmanned aircraft systems and on third-country operators of unmanned aircraft systems[10] continued to build upon the national rules that were in place in the Member States and started to provide a harmonized framework across the European Union. These set of rules determined the features and capabilities that unmanned aircraft must have in order to be flown safely and, at the same time, helped foster investment and innovation in this promising sector. These rules were based on an assessment of the risk of operation and attempted to strike a balance between the obligations of drone manufacturers and operators in terms of safety, respect for privacy, the environment, protection against noise, and security. Nevertheless, apart from the technical requirements adopted, the Commission also intended to cover all operation of drones[11], from those not requiring prior permission, to those involving certified aircraft and operators, as well as minimum remote pilot training requirements.
  • A few months later the European Commission adopted the Implementing Regulation (EU)2019/947 Of 24 May 2019 on the rules and procedures for the operation of unmanned aircraft[12] making sure that the increasing drone traffic across Europe is safe and secure for persons on the ground and in air.[13] Such laws, being applicable to both professional and recreational operators of drones, replaced the local rules of the Member States and kept building upon the measures already in place mitigating security risks and preventing unlawful drone activities. This was be achieved through operators’ registration, remote identification and definition of geographical zones. In fact, from the beginning of this year, all drones within EU perimeters have to be registered with local authorities. Even if these rules are enacted in respect to all drones regardless of weight, it is relevant to note that the majority of drones are part of the market of mass-produced drones, which do not necessarily meet the minimum requirements.
  • As a response to the steady development of innovative legislation in this regard, the European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc held that “The EU will now have the most advanced rules worldwide. This will pave the way for safe, secure and green drone flights. It also provides the much-needed clarity for the business sector and for drone innovators Europe-wide.”[14]
  • The core objectives of the European Commission, together with the aid of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), is to apply the already existing safety standards obtained in manned aviation and implement them to drones as well. In fact, The Aviation Strategy for Europe[15] safeguards the highest levels of safety and support in relation to the competitiveness of the EU’s Aviation Industry. The European Commission and EASA will be soon publishing guidelines and “standard scenarios” to assist drone operators to comply with the pertinent legislation like the EU’s approach is to ensure that drone operators – whether recreational or professional – have a clear understanding of what is allowed or not.

Author: Jurgen Dalli – Junior Legal Associate, PKF Malta
Published on PKF Malta 27th October 2020

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