Switzerland is beloved for its tall peaks, quaint villages, crystalline lakes, and ski resorts.
Whether you want to explore cities like Lausanne, Geneva, or Zurich, can you bring your drone with you on your travels?
Under the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation, Switzerland’s drone authority, you can legally fly a drone in Switzerland. You must follow all FOCA rules and guidelines from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about flying a drone in Switzerland, from the permits and registration required to the drone laws and what happens if you violate them.
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Can you fly a drone in Switzerland?
The Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation or FOCA is Switzerland’s leading drone authority. Under FOCA regulations, drones can enter and operate in Switzerland.
Since Switzerland is part of the European Union, it additionally follows the European Union Aviation Safety Agency guidelines, enforcing those rules on drone pilots.
Drone permits in Switzerland
Before you take flight, you might need a permit, so make sure you have one if required.
Let’s begin by discussing which parties don’t require a permit. If your drone weighs 30 kilograms or less, you don’t have to apply for a permit.
However, FOCA expects you to follow these rules at all times when operating your drone:
- Do not use your drone over a closed nature reserve
- Do not endanger animals or people
- Do not lose visual contact with the drone
- Always respect others’ privacy
- Fly no higher than 120 meters in altitude
Drones that weigh more than 30 kilograms must have a permit.
Drone registration in Switzerland
EASA requires pilots to register their drones in a European Union country before flying within the EU.
Therefore, if you’ve visited other countries in the EU lately and registered your drone there, you shouldn’t have to register it again in Switzerland.
However, if you’ve only ever used your drone in the United States, you should register in Switzerland.
EASA categorizes drones into Open, Certified, and Specific classes according to their weight. Most drones registered with EASA meet Open category requirements, so let’s focus on those.
A drone in the Open category weighs under 55 pounds or 25 kilograms at takeoff.
You should have owned it since before January 1st, 2023, and the UAV has a class identification label of 0 through 4.
You never use the drone to fly too close to people (unless it’s lightweight enough that it’s permitted to do so), you always maintain VLOS when flying, you never transport or drop dangerous items, and you always fly at the required altitude.
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Switzerland drone laws to learn for your stay
Besides the above requirements, all pilots operating drones in Switzerland must also follow these FOCA drone laws.
Do not fly near military buildings and private and public facilities
Pilots cannot operate a drone near, within, or over any private and public facilities, archaeological sites, public utility installations, and military installations throughout Switzerland.
Public air events have different rules
While drone operation usually requires FOCA approval before you launch, the exception is during public air events. You don’t need approval if you only operate a model drone or model airplane while the event is ongoing.
Never use your drone at night
In some countries, you can obtain permission from a drone agency to fly your UAV after dark. That’s not the case in Switzerland.
Under no circumstances can you operate your drone after sunset and before sunrise.
Learn the municipal and canton rules
Drones as a whole can operate in Switzerland, but local laws vary. Municipalities and cantons can restrict or even prohibit drone usage.
Geneva is one such example of a popular canton with rules limiting drone use.
Do not use your drone near heliports and airports
Pilots must maintain distance from the nearest airport or heliport when flying in Switzerland.
You can operate no more than 3 kilometers or 1.86 miles from heliports and 8 kilometers or 4.97 miles from airports.
You’re on the hook for damages when operating a heavier drone
If your drone weighs over 1.1 pounds or 500 grams, FOCA requires you to pay 1 million francs (or more) for damages you cause should you choose to launch your drone.
That guarantee doesn’t apply to lighter drones.
Maintain your distance from animals, vehicles, people, and some buildings
FOCA rules require your drone to operate no closer than 500 meters from structures and isolated buildings. You must also fly the same distance from animals, vehicles, and people.
Do not fly over crowds
If you encounter a crowd when exploring Switzerland with your drone, you cannot fly any closer than 100 meters or 328 feet from them.
Create a safety buffer in residential areas
You can fly a drone in a residential part of Switzerland, but FOCA recommends making a safety buffer zone that’s at least 1 kilometer. You can expand the radius of your safety buffer if you wish.
Follow the Data Protection Act when taking drone photos
Switzerland drone law permits pilots to take photographs with their drones, but not over military installations.
You must also operate within the parameters of the Swiss Data Protection Act, an act designed to safeguard the personal data of natural persons in the country.
Maintain VLOS on your drone within 500 meters
FOCA limits your drone operating distance at 500 meters. You should be able to see your drone at that distance the entire time it’s flying.
You’re allowed to use drone automation if the drone stays in your field of vision. However, you must have control over the drone and be capable of stopping it as needed.
You can also use FPV goggles under VLOS flying rules, but you will need a visual observer with you the entire time.
You cannot use a drone in protected areas for birds
Switzerland has reserves throughout the country for protecting migratory and water birds. You cannot operate your drone in these areas or bird hunting areas.
Do not exceed 50 meters in altitude
If your drone meets Open classifications per EASA’s rules, you cannot fly it higher than 50 meters or 170 feet over the ground.
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What happens if you violate a drone law in Switzerland?
Switzerland enacted these drone laws for the safety of pilots and non-pilots alike. Violating the laws comes with stiff penalties, including fines.
For example, if you go against the Swiss Data Protection Act provisions, you could receive a fine of 250,000 CHF, which is approximately $272,652.25 USD.
Misusing your drone can lead to fines of 20,000 CHF or $21,812.18 USD. Interestingly, even if someone uses your drone without you knowing, since it’s your UAV and not theirs, you’re still on the hook for fines.
Most of the time, drone pilots get hit with smaller fines than 20,000 CHF.
You’re fined 150 CHF or $163.59 USD for flying your drone without visual contact.
You’ll also receive a fine of the same price if you operate your drone close to an airport or heliport and if you exceed the altitude requirements of 120 meters.
Should you fly closer than 100 meters of a crowd, you’ll receive a larger fine of 300 CHF or $327.18 USD.
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Switzerland is an enchanting country to visit. You can see many incredible sights, from Rhine Falls to the Chapel Bridge and Chillon Castle.
FOCA, the drone authority in the country, permits pilots to use drones in Switzerland.
You’re also subject to EASA’s drone laws.
It all basically boils down to having a permit and registration if required, respecting others’ privacy but limiting your drone distance from crowds and private property, avoiding flying close to military installations and airports, and maintaining a visual line of sight on your drone.
Switzerland does not hesitate to dole out fines for pilots who disobey the rules.
Even though most fines are only for several hundred dollars, others are heftier in the five figures. Violating the Swiss Data Protection Act carries the heaviest fine yet at six figures!