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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Legal aspects of drone operations

Drone technology is developing rapidly, that is why legal assessments will require regular updates. The development is so fast that it is very hard to regulate by the law all the restrictions relating to drones. United States - the most advanced country in the drone technology - is supposed to integrate safely drones into the national airspace system by September 2015. Unfortunately, there are so many issues to discuss and define, that the probability of achieving the goal becomes less and less.

Current regulations in U.S. 
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not currently regulate safe minimum operating altitudes for drones as it does for other kinds of aircraft. In 2007, the FAA stated that no person may operate a UAS in the National Airspace without specific authority. Currently all drone operators who do not fall within the recreational use exemption must apply directly to the FAA for permission to fly. Drones operated by federal, state, or local agencies must obtain a certificate of authorization or waiver (COA) from the FAA. After receiving COA applications, the FAA conducts a comprehensive operational and technical review of the drone and can place limits on its operation in order to ensure its safe use in airspace. Civil operators, or private commercial operators, must receive a special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category in order to operate. These certificates have been issued on a limited basis for flight tests, demonstrations, and training. Presently, there is no other method of obtaining FAA approval to fly drones for commercial purposes. Recreational users are instructed to fly a sufficient distance from populated areas and away from noise-sensitive areas like parks, schools, hospitals or churches. Additionally, users should not fly in the vicinity of full-scale aircraft or more than 400 feet above the surface. When flying within three miles of an airport, users should notify the air traffic control tower, airport operator, or flight service station.
What about the future?
As it was mentioned before, FMRA (Modernization and Reform Act) instructs the FAA to integrate civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace by the end of FY 2015 and implement new standards for public drone operators. This law included provisions describing the comprehensive plan and rulemaking the agency must create to address different aspects of integrating civil drones, restricting the FAA’s ability to regulate model aircraft, and requiring the creation of drone test sites. The FAA has already implemented a streamlined process for public operators to obtain COAs. In addition to this streamlining, FMRA instructs the FAA to develop and implement operations and certification requirements for the operation of public unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace. In FMRA, the FAA was prohibited from promulgating rules regarding certain kinds of model aircraft flown for hobby or recreational use. This prohibition applies if the model aircraft is less than 55 pounds, does not interfere with any manned aircraft, and is flown in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines. Additionally, the aircraft must be flown within the line of sight of the operator and be used solely for hobby or recreational purposes. If flown within five miles of an airport, the operator of the model aircraft must notify both the airport operator and air traffic control tower. While the FAA is prohibited from writing rules or regulations governing these aircraft, it is not prohibited from pursuing enforcement actions against persons operating model aircraft who endanger the safety of the national airspace system.

Regulations in European Union 
Regulation of the European Parliament no 216/2008/WE of 20 February 2008 authorized the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to settle legal issues related to the operation of civil unmanned aircraft whose takeoff weight exceeds 150 kg. UAVs used by the military, government or experimental amateur built, as well as all civil UAV whose weight does not exceed 150 kg are exempt from the supervision of the Agency. In early July 2013, the European Commission announced "RPAS Roadmap". It is a document developed by the European RPAS Steering Group (ERSG), a team appointed by the European Commission to help the process of integration of unmanned systems of European airspace. The document sets out an action plan for the period 2016 - 2028, and one of his first objectives is the need to abolish the border of 150 kg and acquire the supervision of EASA also smaller UAVs. This is due to the fear of too much variation in the provisions in force in the various countries of Europe. The reason for the planned changes is the fact that we observe very dynamic development of the possibilities of using mainly small unmanned platforms, which often does not exceed the weight of several kilograms. Determination of the rules of use of drones has been entrusted to national aviation authorities.

United Kingdom 
United Kingdom is working on its regulations several years. It is allowed to operate flights within sight of the operator, UAVs weighing not more than 20 kg and with the following restrictions: a ban on flights at a distance of less than 150 m from the cities, population centers and residential areas, a ban on flights at less than 30 m from people and the obligation to have liability insurance. In addition, each type of commercial activities requires registration and approval of aerial surveillance, as well as the respective powers held by the UAV pilot. Flights out of sight require the approval of aviation authorities and can be implemented in a dedicated specifically for this purpose airspace.

Iceland has no specific regulations addressing unmanned or remotely piloted aircraft, except for what is characterized as ‘self propelled flying models and flying bodies,’ and the regulations dealing with RC aircraft apply to aircraft weighing more than 5 kg that are to be flown within 1.5 km of populated areas or aerodromes. Even small RC aircraft (weighing less than 5 kg) require permission from the aeronautical authority if operated within 1.5 km of an aerodrome. There are no published procedures for applying for permission to operate models or UAS other than requesting permission of the controlling authority for an aerodrome. Otherwise, operations of UAS outside populated areas and away from aerodromes (and presumably in Arctic regions where Iceland provides air navigation services) may be conducted without restriction other than the standard ICAO Class ‘G’ airspace rules.
Regulations in Australia and New Zealand 
Airspace in Australia is regulated by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), an independent authority established by the Australian Federal Government. Any UAV being used for commercial operation requires a UAS Operator’s Certificate, but there are no regulations on the size of it. Commercial Operation is here defined as operating for some sort of remuneration or reward. There are no explicit regulations for non-commercial UAV’s, they fall under the Model Aircraft regulations and are treated as such. The main rules are following:
● Keep the UAV away from populated areas and the immediate vicinity of others (i.e. more than 30m)
● Do not operate within 3nm (5.5km) of an aerodrome
● Do not operate in controlled airspace above 400ft (123m)
● Do not operate in military prohibited or restricted areas
● Do not fly in poor visibility, clouds or at Wight
● Consider the benefits of approved flying areas
The Model Aircraft Association of Australia (MAAA) is the major model aviation authority in Australia and operates a number of flying fields around Australia. The MAAA do not allow UAV’s to be operated at their flying fields.
CASA is currently reworking its UAS regulations. The goal of the new regulations is to take a risk-based approach to small UAV’s. This will likely lead to different classes (depending on weight) of UAV with varying levels of certification needed.

New Zealand
The law in New Zealand is like in Australia, but without the identification requirement. It appears as if recreational and commercial motivations for UAV flight are indistinguishable in New Zealand.

Laws related to civilian drone use don't even exist in African countries yet. This technology is just at the beginning of its development. At the moment, drones have been banned in two countries: Kenya and South Africa. In South Africa the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has declared that it is illegal to be flying UAS within civil aviation airspace in April this year. South African civil aviation legislation does not currently provide for certification, registration and operation of drones in South African airspace, but an increase in demand for UAS’s has prompted the SACAA to integrate regulations as swiftly as possible. Until then, they say that anyone caught operating a drone in public airspace could face a fine of up to R50 000 or ten years imprisonment (or both). Kenya's government also banned the private use of drones. This move will immediately ground an anti-poaching pilot program that was set to begin in one of the world's most important wildlife sanctuaries. In Africa it is very important to introduce appropriate legislation due to The Flying Donkey Challenge, which starts this year and the stationing of U.S. drones in African countries.