Let’s start with the fact that in addition to flying drones, there are also floating and riding models. Nevertheless, these are devices that attract much less interest. For this reason, we focus on flying drones in this article. The important terminology associated with them is primarily:
- Flying model – that is, a device used for sports and recreational purposes;
- Unmanned aer ial vehicle – which is a flying device used for commercial purposes;
- Operator – a person who controls a flying model or unmanned aircraft.
On December 31, 2020, new regulations have been introduced throughout the European Union, including Poland, outlining changes to the law that governs the use of drones. Until now, national laws have been applied in Poland in this regard. However, since 2020, European law is much more unified. This does not change the fact that before a foreign trip it is worth making sure that in a particular country does not apply other, more restrictive regulations.
What changes have been introduced in 2020?
The first modification is the mandatory registration of operators of unmanned aerial vehicles BSP (or drones). It is not necessary to register the device itself, but it is mandatory to register as an operator. Each operator is given a registration number, which must be placed on each drone you own. The registration process is done on the Civil Aviation Authority website.
Further changes apply to underage users – if a person is over 14 but still under 18, they can register with the permission of a parent or legal guardian. If he is less than 14 years old, he cannot register, so he has no right to fly Air, Mini, or Mavica Pro drones. He can only use small toy drones.
According to the new regulations, every person flying a drone has to register on the website of the Civil Aviation Office and undergo an online training completed with a test. The test itself consists of 40 multiple choice questions. It covers topics such as aviation safety, aviation regulations, airspace use restrictions, operating procedures, general knowledge of drone systems, insurance, data protection and privacy.
When is passing the test mandatory? When the drone weighs more than 250g and for all drones that have a sensor to collect data. Therefore, also owners of a Mavic Mini weighing 249g must pass the test because it has a camera that collects data. Without passing this test, you can only fly the smallest flying toys.
Flying a drone in the city
In theory, you can navigate a drone in the city, but it requires a number of conditions. Flying in such an area is allowed by the open category (OPEN), which does not require any permission or permit. In addition, it assumes that it is possible:
- Flying a drone weighing up to 25 kilograms
- Flying up to an altitude of 120 metres only within visual range
- Very low risk for third parties
It should be noted that it is also required to comply with airspace restrictions, such as air zones. Especially if there is an airport or, for example, a military base nearby. In that case, you have to give up the use of the drone. Zone restrictions can be found on the Polish Air Navigation Agency website and the Polish DroneRadar app. All information about zones and restrictions related to flying is available there. Please also note that there are additional categories such as SPECIFIC and CERTIFIED. In each of these categories, you must obtain a permit to fly, while the CERTIFIED category additionally requires a current operator’s certificate.
These categories provide more opportunities, but their holders are also required to have more knowledge and experience in piloting. To get the SPECIFIC and CERTIFIED category you need to pass an additional exam in theoretical knowledge before a state examiner and training and exam in practical skills.
No risk to third parties
This condition also needs to be observed in the OPEN category. It has three subcategories that group drone users as follows:
A1: flying over people:
– C0: over people up to 250 g, no need to register the operator and the drone when the maximum speed is not higher than 19 m/s and if the drone is not equipped with a recording device.
– C1: over people up to 900 g, operator registration required, no need to register the drone when the maximum speed is no more than 19 m/s and if the drone is not equipped with a recording device, online training and test.
A2: flying close to people (30 m horizontal distance from people if the drone does not have the function of speed limitation to 19 m/s, 5 m if the drone has this function). The subcategory takes into account the categorization:
– C2: drone weight up to 4 kg, online training and test, operator and drone registration requirement.
A3: flights away from people (minimum 150 m from people and buildings)
– C3: drone weight up to 25 kg, online training and test, otherwise operator and drone registration requirement.
– C4: drone weight up to 25 kg, online training and test, no autonomous flights operator and drone registration required.
When moving a drone near people, you may be subject to inspection by police, border guards, ULC staff and other services.
Special and certified category
To move a drone in the special category, you must obtain a permit issued by the competent authority, and a risk analysis by the operator. To operate a drone in the certified category, you must have the drone and operator certificates, and in some situations, the pilot must also obtain a license (certificate of qualification). The certified category is used for higher risk flights.
Commercial drone recording
The division into recreational, sport and commercial flights was abolished. Over time, this division began to disappear on its own by blurring the differences between drones. Smaller and cheaper devices appeared on the market, offering the ability to take pictures and video just like the larger and more expensive ones. As a result, commercial flying is based on identical principles to recreational flying.
Air law for everyone
Regardless of the nature of the flight, the same aviation laws apply to everyone. This applies to commercial, recreational, sport, and other flights. The rules governing the flight may differ based on whether the operator holds a UAVO qualification certificate or not.
All drone operators must abide by the laws and rules that apply to other aviation personnel – hang gliders, pilots, skydivers, etc. It is also important to remember that before performing any drone flight, you should read the basic information on airspace classification and the regulations of the specific aviation law (e.g. Polish).
Liability of the operator
The responsibility of the operator is regulated by Appendix No. 6 for flying models and Appendix No. 6a for unmanned aerial vehicles to the Regulation of the Minister of Transport, Construction and Maritime Economy dated 26 March 2013. According to the ordinance, the operator is required to:
1. exercise particular caution, avoiding any action or omission that could:
- cause a threat to safety, including a threat to the safety of air traffic,
- Obstruct air traffic,
- disturb the peace or public order, expose anyone to harm.
(2) Control the BSP/flying model in a manner that avoids collision with another aircraft.
(3) Ensure that the BSP/flying model flown by him/her gives priority to the path of manned aircraft.
(4) Be responsible for the decision to fly and its correctness. The assignment and participation of an observer in the execution of flights does not relieve the observer of responsibility for the safety of the flight operations performed
5. use the BSP/flying model and controls in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and limitations, if any
6. to inspect the BSP/flying model before flight
7. to perform the flight only with a BSP/flying model that is technically sound.
Where can I fly a drone?
Every operator who wants to broaden his competence and gain the ability to fly over objects and places forbidden for recreational flights, should obtain a UAVO qualification certificate. It is a document issued by the Civil Aviation Office, which officially confirms the operator’s qualifications and is used to perform the so-called commercial flights, i.e. other than sport or recreational flights.
As a rule, it is possible to fly a drone beyond the visual range of the operator, however, such flights are only possible for purposes other than sports and recreation. Currently, BVLOS flights require a separate zone or the use of the MATZ zone provided by the military after prior agreement of the details. Besides, you always have to make sure that you can actually fly in the given zone.
As you can see, flying a drone requires proper preparation from the operator. This concerns both mental and factual issues, as well as those related to meeting the relevant legal requirements.
Besides, it should be remembered that although the general rules apply to all, due to the variety of drone models, for example moving in a built-up area depends on the type, purpose and size of the equipment. As a result, we can fly a light drone much more freely than a heavy one. This is logical, taking into account that a larger device also generates greater potential danger.
It is therefore important to keep in mind that the movement of a drone in the airspace is strictly controlled. This is to ensure the safety of other aircraft and flight participants. Therefore, before operating a drone, you need to meet conditions such as passing an online test and registering as an operator. All these rules are to guarantee maximum protection and prevent damage or accidents.
It is also worth initially determining the type of drone – whether it will serve us mainly for recreational flights, sports, or recording. This will make it easier to adapt to specific legal regulations.
Author: Anna-Maria Sobczak, intellectual property lawyer, RPMS Staniszewski & Partners