On 25 April 2016, the new Belgian Royal Decree regulating both the private and professional use of drones in Belgian airspace entered into force. This new legislation is relevant for those who experiment with drone-to-car technology.

The Royal Decree contains specific obligations for ‘pilots’ (they will have to obtain a license and follow trainings), for manufacturers (technical requirements, delivery of conformity certificates, flight manuals and safety analysis reporting, maintenance requirements, tests, etc.) and for operators of drones (prior risk analysis, filing of declaration with the FPS Mobility, prior authorisation requirements). It also introduces a registration obligation and defines the authorised take-off and landing spots for registered drones.

The Belgian legislator furthermore makes a distinction between “Class 1” and “Class 2” drones, subject to different operational and informational requirements and restrictions, corresponding to their higher or lower public security risk.

The use of completely autonomous drones, i.e. unmanned drones that do not allow the pilot to immediately intervene to take control over the flight, remains strictly forbidden (as is by comparison currently also still the case for fully autonomous “self-driving” cars).

Other chapters of the Royal Decree cover the software that is implemented in drone technology, incident reporting obligations, mandatory insurance coverage, and references to compliance with the applicable data protection & privacy legislation (in particular for drones with a camera functionality).

Excluded from the regulatory requirements of the Royal Decree are (a) drones used only to fly inside buildings; (b) drones used by the military, customs authorities, the police, coastguard, etc.; and (c) certain types of model airplanes solely used for personal/recreational purposes.

This drones legislation has been welcomed by the industry. With the adoption of similar legislation in other countries, the ‘unmanned aircraft’ sector is expected to experience an exponential growth in the coming five years. Multinationals, SME’s and start-ups altogether will finally be able – within the regulatory framework – to commercialise and operate drones and to provide related services, e.g. various types of drone-to-car communication technology.