The framework for the regulation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (“UAVs”) is currently intensely debated in the US, the EU and EU Member States. While the focus of this discussion relates to the operation of drones in a commercial and hobbyist environment, UAVs are also subject to export control regulation.

In a move to update its export control regulations, as of 26 December 2015 the EU amended the entries of its Dual-use regime defining which UAVs are subject to export controls. The EUCommission Delegated Regulation 2420/2015 updated Annex I of Regulation 428/2009 (“EU Dual-use List”), to incorporate the changes adopted at an international level in the framework of the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Wassenaar Arrangement.

The EU Dual-use List previously covered UAVs having (i) an autonomous flight control and navigation capability (e.g. autopilot) or (ii) the capability to be controlled out of the “direct vision range” of the operator. With the new amendments to the EU Dual-use List, the control criteria for export-controlled UAVs have been revised as follows:

  • UAVs designed to be controlled out of the “natural vision” of the operator and (i) of a maximum endurance of 30-60 minutes if operative with winds over 25 knots or (ii) of a maximum endurance over 60 minutes. The new EU Dual-use List defines the “operator” as the person initiating or commanding the UAV and “natural vision” as human sight with or without corrective lenses.
  • UAVs other than the above capable of a range of 300 km.
  • Other UAVs having:
    • Autonomous flight control and navigation capability or capability of controlled flight out of the direct vision range of the operator and
    • Incorporating or capable of incorporating an aerosol dispensing system of more than 20 litres.

Engines, software, launch support equipment and other items designed or modified for use in connection with the above UAVs are also controlled under the new EU Dual-use List.

From the list above, it is clear that the revised EU Dual-use List does not target hobbyist operators and their smaller UAVs that do not meet the technical parameters above. However, manufacturers of drones with a larger range or endurance, or better navigation capabilities, as well as commercial operators of such UAVs who may lease the flying material to third parties outside the EU, need to review whether they fall into the scope of EU export control rules.

In May 2015 the US Department of Commerce also revised certain technical parameters controlling dual-use UAVs to incorporate changes adopted at an international regime level.