City centres can be designated as no-fly zones under new EU rules for operating drones

By Michiel Modijefsky / Updated: 14 Jun 2019

On 24 May 2019, the European Commission adopted EU rules on operating drones.  Among a list of measures, Member States will be able to establish "no-fly zones" over city centres and other areas, such as airports. The new rules also address registration of operators and identification of drones and are designed to ensure drone traffic across Europe is safe and secure for people on the ground and in the air.

Unmanned Aircraft, commonly known as ‘drones’, has opened a promising new chapter in the history of aerospace. Unmanned aircraft offer a wide range of possibilities for the benefit of European society, ranging from environmental control and security to a huge variety of commercial services. Throughout the EU, new services and applications are being tested.  

For example, more than twenty cities and regions have already joined the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Initiative since its start in May 2018.  UAM is part of the European Innovation Partnership in Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC), which is supported by the European Commission. UAM brings together cities and regions with companies, allows innovative urban mobility solutions to be showcased and aims to contribute to the creation of a market for urban air mobility.

However, in order to create a truly European market for drone services and aircraft a clear regulatory framework at EU level is required and the new rules for drone operations are part of the European Commission’s effort to provide such a framework. The rules will apply to all operators of drones – both professionals and those flying drones for leisure.

As of 2020 drone operators will have to be registered with national authorities, electronic remote identification of drones should be possible and the Member States will be able to define "no-fly zones" through satellite geo-location where drones will not be allowed to enter.

In principle, the rules apply to all drones regardless of weight. However, operators flying drones weighing less than 25 kg, which concerns most drones on the mass-produced market, will only need to meet a minimum set of requirements such as registration and electronic identification. Operators can fly these drones without prior permission under certain conditions. Among others, restrictions include that the drone must not fly higher than 120 metres and that the operator always keeps the drone in his/her visual line of sight and flies it far away from people.

These rules will replace existing national rules in the EU Member States. The EU approach will ensure that drone operators – whether recreational or professional – will have a clear understanding of what is allowed or not. Operators will also be able to operate their drones seamlessly when travelling across the EU or when developing a business involving drones around Europe.

Following the adoption of technical requirements for drones by the Commission earlier this year. the rules for drone operations are another key deliverable under the Commission's Aviation Strategy for Europe.

Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc said: "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."

Next steps

The European Commission and EASA will soon publish guidelines and so-called "standard scenarios" for drone operations that will help drone operators to comply with the adopted rules. The European Commission is also developing an institutional, regulatory and architectural framework for the provision of U-space services, which aim to enable complex drone operations with a high degree of automation. Finally, a systematic review of all existing EU aviation rules is progressing to identify the necessary changes to improve applicability to drone operations.