Legal situation

Drones have huge potential in a wide range of areas, however, the more drones there are in our skies, the greater the risks of accidents, collisions and crashes. Therefore, clear rules are required to ensure drones are used safely. Rules are laid down at the European level in drone regulations and are supplemented by additional laws at the national level.

Following the amendment of the basic Regulation (EU) 2018/1139 of 4 July 2018, the entire responsibility for regulating unmanned aircraft was transferred to the EU. Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/947 and Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945 have already entered into force, which means that binding and uniform rules apply in the EU.

These regulations apply directly in the member states, however, more extensive regulations and responsibilities are determined by each member state. In Germany, national regulations such as the Air Traffic Act (LuftVG), the Air Traffic Regulation (LuftVO) and the Air Traffic Licensing Regulation (LuftVZO) apply alongside the EU regulations.

At the international level, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is currently preparing the basis for international standards and recommendations in the fields of airworthiness and the operation of unmanned aircraft, operator certification, remote pilot licensing as well as “detect and avoid”.

European level

The first two basic regulations on the development, construction and operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) were published in 2019:

  • Manufacturing regulations for drones (applicable since 1 July 2019)

COMMISSION DELEGTED REGULATION (EU) 2019/945 of 12 March 2019 on unmanned aircraft systems and on third-country operators of unmanned aircraft systems.

The manufacturing regulations essentially impose certain technical standards on manufacturers and retailers in the EU, and, in future, only aircraft bearing the “CE” mark will be permitted.

  • Operating regulations for drones (applicable since 31 December 2020)

COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) 2019/947 of 24 May 2019 on the rules and procedures for the operation of unmanned aircraft.

Operation is permitted using a risk-based approach. UAS are divided into three risk categories with different requirements and conditions: “open”, “specific” and “certified”. The regulations in detail:

“Open” category

Operation in the open category concerns UAS as well as low-risk flights and does not require an operator certificate, provided all open category conditions are met.

The following applies:

    • Maximum altitudes of 120 meters
    • MTOM of less than 25 kg
    • Aircraft is flown within visual line of sight (VLOS) only
    • Carriage of dangerous goods is not permitted
    • Aircraft does not drop any material
    • Compliance with the respective EU member state’s flight regulations and rules – e.g. distance to airfields, manned aircraft, assemblies of people, deployment sites, power plants, prisons, military sites, etc.
    • Respect privacy – do not film or photograph people without their permission
    • Mandatory insurance (as specified by the countries, not defined by the IA)
    • Remote pilots of drones must be at least 16 years old (with the exception of drones that are only used as toys or that do not weigh more than 250g when self-assembled). In some cases, the EU member states can lower the minimum age.
    • Further requirements are dependent on the risk category of the drone used.

In addition, the “open” category is subdivided into three sub-categories:

    • A1: Overflying people (not over assemblies of people in the open)
    • A2: Flying the vicinity of people (however, at a safe distance)
    • A3: Flight at a greater distance from people

Drone classes C0 to C4 determine which drone is subject to requirements A1 to A3.

“Specific” category

Operation in the “specific” category concerns use of UAS that exceeds one or more requirements of the open category (e.g. flying above 120 metres, beyond VLOS, etc.).

The following applies:

    • UAS operators are required to obtain a certificate to operate the aircraft based on a prior risk assessment.

“Certified” category

Operation in the category requiring certification applies to all UAS, provided they have dimensions of minimum 3 metres.

The following applies:

    • UAS are designed in such a way that they can be operated over assemblies of people.
    • UAS are designed to transport people or carry dangerous goods.
    • UAS need to be highly robust to mitigate risks to third parties in the event of an accident.

Irrespective of the risk category in which the drone is operated, an EU proof of competence (licence) for the remote pilot as well as an obligation to register the UAS operator in the respective national database are required. Registration of the UAS itself is currently required in the “certified” category only.

Detailed regulations for the certified category are still being developed.

The regulations for the “U-space“, European UAS Traffic Management (UTM), already came into force in April 2021 and will become effective in January 2023. This creates the basis for the safe operation of manned and unmanned aircraft in shared airspace.

For further questions, please refer to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) FAQs.

National level

The EU Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 on the operation of unmanned aircraft applies directly in the member states and partially supersedes the provisions of former national laws. Therefore, national civil aviation laws have been amended to include the EU regulations.

In particular, this concerns amendments:

  • To national aviation administration responsibilities

The German Federal Aviation Office (Luftfahrt-Bundesamt – LBA) and the state aviation authorities are responsible. In this respect, the competences differ with regard to the following UAS categories, which have been defined in the Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947:

“Open” category

    • LBA conducts examinations and issues certificates and credentials
    • The relevant federal state aviation authority supervises operations

“Specific” category

    • LBA conducts examinations and issues certificates and credentials
    • The relevant federal state aviation authority issues certificates to operate aircraft

“Certified” category

    • LBA issues licences
    • The regulations governing the operation of manned, motor-powered aircraft apply to the extent that they may have an impact on environmental, noise or nature conservation concerns.

LBA is responsible for supervising the operations of operators from third countries.

  • To the registration of operators of unmanned aircraft in the “open” and “specific” categories

Operators of unmanned aircraft in the “open” and “specific” categories must register with LBA. To this end, LBA maintains a register of operators of the following unmanned aircraft:

  1. unmanned aircraft in the “open” operating category with a take-off mass of 250 grams or more
  2. an unmanned aircraft in the “open” operating category fitted with a sensor capable of collecting and storing personal data (for example, a camera)
  3. an unmanned aircraft of any mass in the “specific” operation category
  • To the registration of unmanned aircraft subject to authorisation

Unmanned aircraft subject to authorisation must be registered with LBA.

  • To the operation in geographical zones

The operation of unmanned aircraft is only permitted in the following geographical zones (places, facilities, spaces, plots of land, etc.) under certain conditions:

    • Airports
    • Airfields that are not classified as airports (e.g. glider airfields)
    • Industrial facilities, correctional facilities, military facilities and organisations, centralised power generation and distribution facilities
    • Plots of land belonging to constitutional bodies
    • Nature reserves
    • Residential estates
    • Hospitals

Further information and more detailed regulations can be found in section 21h of the German Air Traffic Regulation (LuftVO).

Violations of Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 on the rules and procedures for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems are classed as an administrative offence.

Operators of unmanned aircraft are required to provide an insurance policy number.

For more information, see  Act of 14 June 2021 on the amendment of national regulations to Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 of 24 May 2019 on the rules and procedures for the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles.

In addition, you can obtain information on the websites of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) and LBA.

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