New EU Drone Regulations Explained


On January 1, 2021, the European Union will standardize drone regulations across the continent. The new rules replace each EU state’s existing laws and apply to all drone operators.

At this point, a two-year “Limited Open Category” transition period goes into effect, giving all parties time to adhere to the new rules and regulations. 

Currently, drone regulations differ from country to country. What is permissible in one may not be permissible in another.

For example, while drone operators in Portugal must use drones weighing less than 25 kg and carry third-party limited liability insurance of up to 1 million euros, the same rule may not apply in neighboring Spain.

This difference causes confusion and has stalled drone adoption in the EU. But by standardizing the rules, the EU hopes to make drone operations easier and safer for everyone.

In addition to the EU’s 28-member states, Iceland, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Norway will also adopt the new regulatory framework.

Category classifications

The new European regulatory framework takes a risk-based approach, classifying each technology into three separate categories: Open, Specific and Certified.

Additional criteria related to weight, certification, operator qualification and operations will also help determine which category drones fall under.

Limited Open Category

Before the three main categories go into effect, as the official standards will not be ready on January 1, 2021, all drone operations will fall in the Limited Open Category instead of in the Open Category.

With a weight of under 2kg, the senseFly eBee X, eBee Plus, eBee SQ and eBee Classic are all allowed to fly close to people (50m) during the two-year Limited Open Category transition period.

Meanwhile, drones above the 2kg threshold must remain at a safe horizontal distance of at least 150 meters in residential, commercial, industrial and recreational areas during the Limited Open Category period.

Open Category

The low-risk “Open Category” applies to most consumer drones and drones that don’t transport goods.

Operations in the Open Category will not require authorization from a national aviation authority (NAA) for standard operations that fall within its defined scope.

This means drone pilots won’t have to worry if the technical aspects of their drone comply with EU regulations. Instead, the responsibility will rest with the drone manufacturer.

The open category is further divided into subcategories (A1, A2 and A3), which depend on the danger posed by its intended operation.

For drones that weigh between 900g and 4kg, such as the eBee X, the operation must be conducted in such a way that the aircraft does not fly over uninvolved persons.

Operations must also take place at a safe horizontal distance of at least 30 meters from uninvolved persons (A2 scenario).

For drones above 4kg, such as VTOL systems like the WingtraOne, the rules state: “The operation must be conducted in an area where the remote pilot reasonably expects that no uninvolved person will be endangered within the range where the unmanned aircraft is flown during the entire time of the UAS operation.”

Their operation must also be conducted at a safe horizontal distance of at least 150 meters from residential, commercial, industrial or recreational areas, thus severely limiting the operational capability to more remote areas.

Specific Category

This category will apply to drone operations where flights pose a level of risk greater than the Open Category.

Drone operators that want to conduct advanced operations, such as BVLOS, fall into the medium-risk (“Specific”) category.

There are three ways to operate in this category:

  1. The operation is conducted under a Standard Scenario published by the EASA or NAA and the drone flown is compliant for this scenario. The operator only needs to submit a declaration for the operation to its NAA.
  2. The operation is not conducted under a Standard Scenario published by the EASA or NAA. Prior to their mission, drone operators must perform a risk appraisal according to the Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) or use a Predefined Risk Assessment (PDRA) or other alternatives accepted by their local NAA. If the mitigations put in place are considered enough to ensure the safety of the operation by the authority, they will provide authorization.
  3. The operation is conducted under the responsibility of an operator with a LUC (Light UAS Operator Certificate).

Certified Category

Operations that fall under the Certified Category are those that are believed to pose the highest risk.

For example, a flight carried out under the Certified Category would likely involve the transportation of people or dangerous goods.

Before you buy a drone

The impending regulations will help improve drone safety and operational standards by unifying the rules and regulations across Europe.

This will no doubt improve the drone landscape and make it easier for companies to adopt and benefit from drone technology on a larger scale.

While the new rules will apply to Europe only, they could also prompt civil aviation authorities in the U.S., Canada and other parts of the world to adopt and adapt them to their needs. Meaning we could see similar operational restrictions apply outside of Europe in the near future.

If you’re considering purchasing a drone in the coming months, we strongly recommend that you check whether or not that drone’s operational capability will be impacted by the new EU regulations.

Drones are an important investment. It’s vital that anyone wanting to adopt or further expand their existing drone program understands the limitations of their platform of choice today, as well as tomorrow.

For more information about the new EU or other regulations, please contact us directly at regulatory@sensefly.com