Unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, are being increasingly used throughout Europe (and elsewhere) in a variety of sectors, from news, documentaries and TV productions to pizza delivery (albeit less frequently!)… However, the drones’ world remains still mysterious for some legislators.

Absent of a clear EU regulatory framework, a few days ago the European Aviation Safety Agency (the “EASA“) released the “Concept of Operations for Drones – A risk based approach to regulation of unmanned aircraft”, setting up a new Europe-wide risk-based approach which provides rules which will take into account  according to the level of risk of the operation to be performed with the drone, thus laying the foundation for the adoption of a common regulation concerning all civil drones in a near future (a first draft law for the lowest risk category is expected for December 2015).

Whilst Europe is slowly moving towards harmonized rules, several Member States have already implemented their own national legislations on the usage of civil drones. Among the others, Italy seems to be at the forefront of drones’ regulation.

ENAC Regulation – On April 30, 2014 the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (Ente Nazionale per l’Aviazione Civile, the “ENAC“) issued the Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles Regulation (the “Regulation“), providing different (and complex!) sets of rules for civil drones depending on the mass of the drone and the areas where the operator intends to use the drone (for our friends speaking Italian, see also Gualtiero’s post from L’Ora Legale). In particular, the Regulation makes a distinction between “systems with a maximum take-off mass of less than 25 kg“(semi-professional or amateur vehicles, often self-assembled) and “systems with a maximum take-off mass of more than or equal to 25 kg” (which are considered true professional industrial aerial vehicles).

“Light Weight Drones” - Flying drones weighting less than 25 kg requires either a prior declaration filed by the operator to ENAC or ENAC’s prior authorization, depending, respectively, upon whether the drones are to be used for non-critical or critical operations. The use of light drones for non-critical operations, that is to say operations carried out in deserted or wild areas, which are scarcely populated (not that easy to find in Italy!), is subject to the filing by the operator of a prior self-declaration of compliance to ENAC. Such operations shall be performed within limited boundaries (within a volume of space of 70 m maximum height above the ground and a radius of 200 m (so-called “V70“) and at an adequate horizontal safety distance from congested areas (not less than 150 m), e.g. at a minimum distance of 8 km from the perimeter of an airport) and under specific conditions (e.g. operations could be carried out solely in the daylight and the remote pilot shall have direct visual contact with the drone, without the aid of optical and/or electronic devices). Differently, ENAC’s specific authorization is required to carry out critical operations, including the operations carried out in congested areas (residential areas, urban areas, squares, etc.), restricted areas and railway lines and stations, highways and industrial plants.

“Heavy Weight Drones” -More stringent rules apply to drones with a maximum take-off mass equal or superior to 25 kg: such drones shall be registered by ENAC in the Remote Piloted Aircraft Register. Their airworthiness shall be ensured by either a Permit to Fly or a Restricted Certificate of Airworthiness. In addition, the drone’s operator should also obtain ENAC authorization, provided that it is compliant with a number of rules about technical organization, regular maintenance, risk assessments, etc. Heavy drones could be used within wider boundaries (within a space volume of 150 m maximum height above the ground and 500 m radius, the so-called “V150“), provided that the remote pilot has direct visual contact with the drone, without the aid of optical and/or electronic devices.

Further essential requirements are set with regard to the pilot on the ground, who, among other things, must be able to demonstrate that she/he is fully knowledgeable about airspace and the air rules, and the operator’s compulsory insurance for damages caused by the collision of the drone.

The Italian drones regulation still leaves some uncertainties for operators, so further clarifications may be released by the competent authorities.

Similarly to many other technological developments, a clear and homogenous legislation (at least) at  European level will no doubt foster further (and lawful) usage of drones for the benefit of many industry sectors (including media and….yes, pizza delivery! see here)