France is the most visited tourist destination in the world and has always been. The daring design of the Eiffel Tower, the artworks in the Musée du Louvre, the Palace of Versailles, and the appealing view of Mont Saint-Michel can make you want to spend the rest of your life in the country.
Visiting France without your drone might end up being your biggest miss. Without it, you can’t get an aerial view of your favorite destinations, you can’t collect enough imaging data of places out of your reach, and you won’t be able to match the image and video quality with just your smartphone.
Since drones are illegal in many countries, it is common to ask if you can bring them to France before boarding the plane.
Drone operation is legal in France, but you must adhere to specific rules by the French Civil Aviation Authority (FCAA) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). You are not subject to these rules if your drone: weighs less than 250grams and is not equipped with sensors capable of capturing personal data; is considered to be a toy under Directive 2009/48/EC; or is a control line model aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight less than or equal to 1kg.
In this article, I’ll share more about these rules and clarify what you need to know about bringing a drone to France. You’ll also learn about the process of taking a drone through customs in France.
Can you bring a drone to France?
You can bring a drone to France, but you must register the drone and adhere to the rules guiding the operation of drones and uncrewed aircraft in France.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) rules apply to drone operators in countries that are part of the European Union. In contrast, the French Civil Aviation Authority (FCAA) rules apply to drone operators in France only.
Whether flying for fun or work, you must follow the rules to avoid being penalized. Three main categories determine the drone operation rules. These categories are based on the drone’s weight, level of risks, and intended operation.
Your understanding of these categories will help you understand the general rules better.
See the categories below:
1. Open category
A drone operated in the open category has a takeoff mass of 25kg or less. It must not exceed the height of 120m above the ground or sea level.
Also, it doesn’t require prior authorization or operator declaration considering the low level of risks.
2. Specific category
Flights in the specific category require authorization before an operation because of the moderate level of risk involved and don’t meet the requirements in the ‘open’ category.
Also, a declaration must be submitted to FCAA if the operation is under a standard scenario.
3. Certified category
Flights in the certified category require you to have a drone certificate and a licensed remote pilot, considering the inherent danger. Operations in the certified category usually involve large drones.
General rules for flying a drone in France
Having known the category you fall into as a drone operator, here are some general rules to note:
- You can fly a drone up to 50 meters above the ground or sea level in the open category and up to 120 meters in the specific category.
- Avoid flying close to a residential area or a populated area. Flying a drone in a populated place can cause disturbance and inconvenience for the people there.
- Keep a safe distance of 500 meters from isolated people, buildings, animals, vehicles, and structures. If you can’t, ensure you seek the owner’s or individual’s consent.
- Don’t fly a drone out of sight—the operating distance shouldn’t exceed 500 meters. This will help you be in control of the flight.
- Avoid flying near helicopters or airports. Keep a minimum distance of 8 kilometers from airports and 3 kilometers from helicopters.
- You shouldn’t fly a drone at night, irrespective of the situation. Flying at night is unsafe because tracking the drone’s direction will be difficult.
- Don’t fly a drone near military installations, public facilities, or archaeological sites.
Notes for foreign drone operators (Non-EU residents)
If you’re a foreigner in France, you MUST first register as an operator with FCAA at AlphaTango. As part of your registration, you’ll be given a unique registration number that MUST be attached to your drone.
If you own many drones, the same number MUST be attached to them.
However, if you’ve done the registration in another European country before visiting France, then you don’t need to re-register.
In addition to the registration, you need a Remote Pilot Certificate to fly your drone in France. A Remote Pilot School in France or any EU country must issue this certificate.
To obtain this certificate, you must undergo online training and score at least 75% in the exams. The Remote Pilot Certificate is valid for 5 years. This certificate should always be with you so that you can present it when the authorities request.
Taking a drone through customs in France
There’s no restriction placed on bringing your drone to France as long as it is for a legitimate reason.
However, you might have to comply with the rules of the airline you’re using. Most airlines only allow your drone on board when you’ve removed the batteries and put them in the cabin luggage.
Some other airlines have battery voltage limits per the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Instead of guessing, you can learn about your specific airline here.
» MORE: Airline Drone Policy (Read This Before You Travel)
The risks involved in flying a drone illegally in France
The penalty or punishment for breaking the drone operation rules in France depends on the nature and severity of your infraction.
Your infraction will have to be evaluated by the appropriate authorities to see if your offense was intentional or attached to a commercial purpose.
Whatever the case may be, you risk paying up to 75,000 € as a fine or 1-year imprisonment, or a combination of both. So, ensure you comply with all the rules to avoid getting into a mess.