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Can You Bring a Drone to Europe?

With historical sites, sandy beaches, and alpine mountains, there is something for everyone in the European Union (EU).

If you hope to join the tourists who flock to Europe each year, you may wonder if you can bring your drone.

According to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), flying a drone is legal in the EU. However, non-EU travelers who plan on flying a drone weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) must first register with the National Aviation Authority (NAA).

It is also worth noting that laws regarding drones are always evolving, so you need to check for updates as you plan your trip.

In this article, I will provide an overview of what you need to know before bringing a drone to the EU.

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Standardized drone laws in Europe

Effective January 1, 2021, the EASA standardized drone laws throughout its member states. These standardized laws replaced existing regulations adopted by individual states.

In other words, the following countries have fairly similar expectations for drone pilots:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Republic of Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden

Iceland, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Norway have also adopted the EASA drone regulations.

Registering as a drone operator in Europe

Are you a non-EU resident with hopes of flying a drone in Europe? If so, you will need to register as a drone operator with the NAA from the first EASA state in which you intended to fly.

For example, if your drone’s maiden voyage will be in Italy, you will need to register with the NAA in Italy.

To register, you will need to:

  • Be 16 years or older.
  • Train and pass the European drone pilot’s certificate online exam.
  • Receive a remote pilot competency certificate.

After registering, you must display your registration number on all of your drones and then upload it into the “Remote Identification System” of your drone.

Fortunately, your EU drone license is valid in all EU member states. So, if you register in Austria, you can also fly in Sweden and Poland without having to complete additional paperwork.

Which EU drone certificate do you need?

The EU drone certificate has two certificates: the basic certificate and the supplementary certificate.

Basic certificate:

  • Is mandatory for drones weighing .55 to 55 pounds (250 grams to 25 kg).
  • Is mandatory for drones with a C1 to C4 designation.

Additional certificate:

  • Is optional for drones from 1.1 pounds to 4.4 pounds (500 grams to 2 kg).
  • Allows you to fly over buildings as long as you keep 164 feet (50 meters) from uninvolved people.
  • Is mandatory for C2 label drones.

How long is my EU Drone Certificate valid?

Generally speaking, your certificate will be valid for five years.

Insurance laws in Europe

Drone insurance is not required in Europe. However, the National Civil Aviation Authority recommends operators purchase civil liability insurance just in case an accident occurs.

General drone laws in Europe

Under the new EASA regulations, drone laws in Europe depend on which category your unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) falls into.

There are three categories:

1. Open category

The open category is considered the lowest risk. This category applies to drones that:

  • Have a maximum take-off weight of less than 55 pounds (25 kg).
  • Do not transport goods.
  • Do not conduct advanced operations.
  • Will not fly higher than 400 feet (120 meters).

Pilots operating in the open category must also maintain a visual line-of-sight.

If you plan on flying in the open category, you still need to register with NAA. However, your flights do not require prior authorization from NAA because they are low-risk.

Open category subcategories

This category is subdivided into operational subcategories: A1, A2, and A3. The higher the number, the stricter the flight limitations.

  • A1 subcategory – You cannot fly over uninvolved people or in prohibited areas.
  • A2 subcategory – You must keep a horizontal distance of 98 feet (30 meters) from uninvolved people.
  • A3 subcategory – You cannot fly near or over people. Additionally, you must stay 492 feet (150 meters) from urban areas.

2. Specific category

The specific category is reserved for drones that pose a higher operational risk. This category applies to drones that are:

  • Operated beyond the visual line of sight.
  • Operated over people.
  • Used for package delivery.

Pilots operating drones in this category require NAA authorization.

3. Certified category

Drones operated in the certified category pose the highest level of risk. These drones are typically very large and may involve the transportation of people or dangerous goods.

For this category, pilots must receive NAA authorization and conduct a risk assessment. Hobbyists normally don’t need to worry about the certified category.

What is the highest altitude a drone can be flown in Europe?

The maximum altitude for flying drones in Europe is 400 feet (122 meters). Because of this, you should avoid operating a drone near airports or in flight paths.

Drone geographical zones in Europe

In addition to drone classifications, the EU has developed drone geo-zones. These zones designate whether or not pilots can fly their drones in a specific area.

The three primary geo-zones include:

  • Excluded – These zones prohibit drone usage.
  • Restricted – These zones require prior authorization from the NAA. Examples include airports, heliports, national parks, military installations, hospitals, and nuclear power plants.
  • Facilitated – You can fly your drone in these areas without prior authorization.

It is your responsibility as a drone pilot to determine if a particular area in Europe allows drone usage.

Fortunately, many EU countries have partnered with the NAA to develop maps that color code excluded, restricted, and facilitated areas. You can find some of these maps here.

However, if you aren’t sure if you are allowed to fly a drone in a particular area, contact the EASA at drones@easa.europa.eu.

Traveling to Europe with your drone

Traveling to Europe with a drone can be tricky because airlines consider lithium-ion batteries “dangerous goods.”

That being said, check with your specific airline before boarding. Some restrict how many batteries you can carry, while others prohibit batteries altogether.

Also, you should always bring your drone in your carry-on luggage to mitigate theft.

If you feel uncomfortable carrying your drone through multiple airports, you can ship your device using DHL, FedEx, or UPS.

Important things to remember when flying drones in Europe:

  • Avoid flying over uninvolved people or large crowds.
  • Do not fly over 400 feet (122 meters).
  • Respect others’ privacy.
  • Keep your drone in your visual line of sight at all times.
  • Don’t fly above embassies, prisons, schools, military bases, airports, or other prohibited areas.
  • Don’t fly at night or during inclement weather.

Another word of caution: Though the EU has standardized drone rules and regulations, you should always check the laws in each country you plan on visiting.

References:
EASA (link)
Geo-Zones (link)