International laws and regulations regarding small unmanned aircraft systems (“sUAS”) are rapidly changing. Singapore’s new sUAS laws became effective on June 1, 2015, New Zealand’s new regulations come into effect August 1, 2015, and Australia plans to complete revisions of its sUAS regulations next year. This post reviews some notable changes in international sUAS laws and regulations.

Australia

Australia’s Civilian Aviation Safety Authority (“CASA”) has regulated sUAS since 2002. The regulations govern sUAS less than 20kg (44lbs), require a permit for commercial use, and limit flights to within the visual line of sight (“VLOS”) of the operator and 400 feet above ground level (“AGL”). With the exception of the sUAS’ weight, the rules are similar to the proposed U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) regulations, which define sUAS as weighing 25kg (55lbs) or less. CASA has issued approximately 220 permits and is currently reviewing 100 additional permit requests.

Australia has permitted sUAS package delivery testing since March, 2014 for the delivery of student textbook rentals. CASA allows both Extended Visual Line of Sight (“EVLOS”) operations—where the remote pilot relies on one or more remote observers to keep the unmanned aircraft in sight at all times—and Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations—where the sUAS is flown by instruments from a remote pilot station—through approvals on a case-by-case basis. More information regarding sUAS package delivery testing can be found on our post, here.

CASA is revising its regulations, and expects to issue new regulations in 2016. These regulations are expected to relax the rules for sUAS weighing less than 2kg, no longer requiring an unmanned operator’s certificate and echoing CASA’s rules for recreational operators.

New Zealand

New Zealand, which has historically had relaxed sUAS regulations to encourage technological innovation, recently tightened its sUAS regulations. The Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (“CAA”) now requires certification for operators of sUAS over 25kg (55lbs) and that all sUAS be operated within fairly narrow restrictions (daytime-only operations, VLOS, and no more than 400 feet AGL). Operating outside of these limitations requires further permitting from the CAA. The new regulations become effective August 1, 2015.

Singapore

Members of the Singapore Parliament passed a new sUAS law in May 2015 which came into effect on June 1, 2015. The law forbids the carriage of weapons or radioactive material, provides a framework to apply for permits to discharge material (e.g., package delivery), and address the interception and destruction of unsafe or rogue sUAS.

France

France has the largest number of commercial sUAS operators, with approximately 1,600 companies registered for commercial sUAS operation. The Ministry of Transport’s Civil Aviation Authority (“DGAC”) has banned flying sUAS over sensitive facilities, including military buildings and nuclear facilities, among others. In addition, DGAC has also designated Paris as a no-fly zone, similar to the FAA’s recent designation of Washington, DC as a “No Drone Zone”. In December 2014, France’s post office announced it would be testing sUAS package deliveries for medical supplies in difficult to reach areas.

International sUAS Opportunities

As sUAS technology advances, companies will want to operate sUAS for new uses that may not be permitted under the companies’ domestic sUAS rules. Permitting systems that allow for increased regulatory flexibility, such as those in New Zealand and Singapore, provide room for technological growth while giving the government control over those operations. U.S. companies should also consider operating in the U.S. under the FAA’s Section 333 exemptions, particularly for operations that would not conform to the FAA’s proposed rules. Within a year, the FAA is expected to release the final sUAS rules and give commercial operators the opportunities in the U.S. that they have around the world. Companies that are concerned about sUAS security issues should also review and understand the developing body of international rules regarding sUAS protections, such as the rules in Singapore, to examine which rules are achieving their desired effect and areas of potential improvement.

[A special thanks to Meghan Hammond for her contributions to this blog post.]