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24 September 2014
Civil drones (also known as remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS)) are increasingly used, but they operate under a fragmented regulatory framework.
It is generally understood that an adequate regulatory framework should support the development of RPAS applications, while ensuring the safety, security and privacy of private citizens and the safety of other airspace users. RPAS should be able to operate in airspace with a variety of manned aircraft under visual or instrument flight rules adhering to the requirements of the specific airspace in which they are operating.
Switzerland has so far been reluctant to approach the integration of RPAS into the aviation system in a comprehensive manner. It has instead been dealing with selected points only.
One example is the latest amendment to the Ordinance on Special Category Aircraft.(1) From August 1 2014, drones weighing between 0.5 kilograms (kg) and 30kg are prohibited from flying over a 'gathering' of people – which, according to the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA), should be understood as several dozen people standing together.
Another example is a prohibition (which has been in force for some time) operating civil drones beyond the visual line of sight, in which the pilot maintains unaided visual contact with the remotely controlled aircraft.
FOCA may grant exemptions from both prohibitions, but only on the basis of a satisfactory hazard and risk assessment of the RPAS in question.
The European Union is seeking to establish more comprehensive rules on the integration of RPAS into the overall aviation system. On April 8 2014 the European Commission announced that RPAS applications can develop only if civil drones can fly in non-segregated airspace without affecting the safety and operation of the wider civil aviation system. To this end, the European Union intends to put in place an enabling regulatory structure, using the consultation process of the European Aviation Safety Agency.(2)
While Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, it is still likely to adopt the future European regime on RPAS.
One complicating factor is that the existing European institutions are competent to regulate only remotely piloted aircraft with a maximum take-off mass above 150kg; while remotely piloted aircraft with a maximum take-off mass below 150kg fall under the national civil aviation authorities' remit.
This distinction may be contrary to the aim of establishing a coherent safety policy and could be reconsidered at a later date.
For now, the national civil aviation authorities of European states, including Switzerland's FOCA, are expected to develop and harmonise their own rules on RPAS within the remit of their existing competencies. This may be done on the basis of the recommendations and guidance materials developed by the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS).(3)
JARUS is developing recommended requirements for:
For further information on this topic please contact Andreas Fankhauser at Baumgartner Mächler by telephone (+41 44 215 4477), fax (+41 44 215 4479) or email (email@example.com). The Baumgartner Mächler website can be accessed at www.bmlaw.ch.
(2) Final report from the European RPAS Steering Group, June 2013: Communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, "Opening the aviation market to the civil use of remotely piloted aircraft systems in a safe and sustainable manner", COM(2014)207.
(3) See http://jarus-rpas.org/.
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