Royal Decree of 10 April 2016

On 25 April 2016, the Royal Decree of 10 April 2016 “concerning the use of remote controlled aircrafts in the Belgian airspace” entered into force.

This new legislation regulates both the private and professional use of “unmanned aircraft systems”, also known as ‘drones’. It contains a number of air traffic rules to be complied with by operators of drones that either take off or land on Belgian territory, or partially perform their flight in Belgian airspace.

Regulatory provisions

The Royal Decree contains, among other things, specific obligations for ‘pilots’ of drones (they will have to obtain an official attestation / license and follow certain trainings) and for manufacturers of drones (technical requirements, delivery of conformity certificates, drafting of a flight manual and safety analysis reporting, maintenance requirements, flight tests, etc.). It also introduces a registration obligation for drones, regulates the issuance of official drones registration certificates, and defines the authorised take-off and landing spots for registered drones (which have to comply with certain technical and safety requirements).

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 the higher or lower public security risk associated with the operation of the two classes of drones. Drone operators are moreover required to make a prior risk analysis, and – in some cases – to file a declaration with the DG Airspace of the FPS Mobility or even to obtain a formal prior authorisation before operating the most risky types of drones. The use of completely autonomous aircrafts, i.e. unmanned drones that do not allow the pilot to immediately intervene to take control over the flight, remains strictly forbidden.

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

Exclusions

Excluded from the regulatory requirements of the Royal Decree of 10 April 2016 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, provided that they fall within the strict requirements detailed in the Royal Decree.

This new drones legislation is welcomed by the BeUAS (Belgian Federation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems), which represents the interests of the Belgian enterprises and institutions that are active in the unmanned aviation sector, and which already represents more than 185 members. Multinationals, SME’s and start-ups altogether will finally be able – within the regulatory framework of the Royal Decree – to commercialise and operate drones and to provide related services on the Belgian territory. With the adoption of similar legislation in other countries, both within the EU and worldwide, the ‘unmanned aircraft’ sector is already expected to experience an exponential growth in the coming five years.