With its EU-wide drone regulation, EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) has created a set of rules that apply in all member states
Drone license: What has changed with the EU Drone Regulation?
With the EU-wide drone regulation, EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) has created a set of rules that applies in all member states and is intended to ensure the standardization of rules. Nevertheless, there are still national laws that apply beyond the EASA rules in the respective countries. Today, we explain how aspiring remote pilots in Austria can obtain their drone license.
Uniform rules to simplify drone operation
Until Dec. 31, 2020, the operation of multicopters in the EU was regulated only by national laws - if at all. Especially for commercial operators who served customers across borders (e.g. in Austria and Germany), the locally applicable regulations could be confusing. But even private long-distance pilots were often unsure what applied, for example, when traveling on vacation to another EU country. EASA has therefore drawn up a set of regulations that is binding for all EU countries. Colloquially, the term drone license is often used. However, there are different rules for different types of drones.
New categories for drones
Since there are very different designs, the drone regulation provides for three operating categories in which the various models are classified.
For private users, the Open category should be relevant in most cases. It again includes some subcategories, which mainly concern the take-off weight.
Classes of the category Open
C0: Take-off weight below 250 grams
C1: take-off weight between 250 and 900 grams
C2: take-off weight between 900 grams and 4 kilograms
C3 and C4: take-off weight between 4 and 25 kilograms.
Manufacturers must make the classification as part of the drone CE marking. The classification affects where and how a drone device may be flown. For example, the safety distance to people plays a major role, as a crashing aircraft with a mass of several kilograms can lead to serious injuries. The distance to be maintained from people is therefore primarily based on the takeoff weight. In addition, certain areas (e.g. restricted areas, airports and smaller airfields) may only be flown over with prior approval from the relevant authorities (e.g. Austro Control). Operators of Open category aircraft must also comply with the following rules in all cases:
maximum permitted flight altitude: 120 meters
Flight operation only permitted with direct, uninterrupted line of sight (without technical aids such as VR or FPV goggles or screens).
Depending on their weight, the drone models in the Open operating category are divided into three further subcategories. In order to be allowed to fly the respective models, pilots must meet the relevant requirements and qualifications, which are demonstrated via the drone operator's license.
A1: Drone flights to take place "close to humans"
Only models of the classes C0 and C1 are eligible for such flights. The take-off weight must therefore not exceed 900 grams. Also allowed are non-classified own designs under 250 grams as well as with old devices below 250g take-off weight, which came before 31.12.2020 in the trade.
Class C0 and C1 devices may be operated in a radius of up to 50 meters in the so-called follow me mode. It is important to note that uninvolved persons may only be flown over with C0 drones.
A2: Drone flights at a "safe distance from people"
This class applies in particular to C2 class drone models (between 900g and 4kg take-off weight). They may only be operated at a safe distance from people. The EASA drone regulation defines 30 meters distance to uninvolved persons as safe in the sense of this classification. Exception: If the drone model has a so-called low-speed mode, which allows operation at a maximum speed of 3 meters per second, the minimum distance may be reduced to 5 meters. However, this requires suitable external conditions (in particular weather conditions and wind speeds).
A3: Drone flights "far from people"
Drones of categories C2, C3 and C4 (take-off weight between 900g and 25 kg; also own constructions) can be operated in subcategory A3 with a minimum distance of 150 meters to residential areas, commercial areas, industrial areas and recreational areas. No uninvolved persons may be present in the flight area.
Remote ID function
A Remote ID function can transmit position, altitude and operator ID as well as some other information to radio receivers within range. Like the geo-awareness function, it is mandatory for models in subcategories C1, C2 and C3. The latter function allows the drone to detect current airspace conditions and warn the pilot of possible violations. Not affected by this obligation are C0 and C4 drones as well as self-built models with a maximum weight of 25 kg.
What about older drone models without CE marking?
In order that old devices may continue to be operated, there is a transitional arrangement until 31.12.2022. However, separate requirements also apply here, which must be complied with:
Drone models up to 500g may be operated like subcategory A1 models. Below 250g take-off weight, facilitating exceptions apply.
Drone models up to 2kg may be operated like models of subcategory A2. However, instead of a minimum distance of 30 meters, at least 50 meters must be maintained.
Drone models up to 25kg may be operated like subcategory A3 models.
All drones that do not fall under the rules of the Open category require an operating license of the Specific category.
Aircraft in this category may be flown beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). This includes, for example, camera flights over populated areas or special infrastructure (e.g. power lines). This category is mostly relevant for commercial applications and only rarely for private pilots. An application including a risk assessment is required for an operating license. The separate risk assessment can be omitted if standard scenarios are involved whose risk assessment is already known (e.g. inspection of wind turbines). After approval by Austro Control, holders of a Light UAS Operator Certificate can authorize flight operations in the Specific category themselves, if necessary.
Drone flights in the Certified category have a similar risk as regular manned aviation. In any case, the aircraft must be certified for this purpose. This includes, among other things, operations for the transport of dangerous goods, the transport of people or the flight over crowds of people with drone models of more than three meters in size. At present, aircraft for this category can only be approved via a separate application to EASA.
Further information on the individual categories as well as useful tips can be found on Austro Control's website at www.dronespace.at.
The way to the drone license
Depending on the operating category of the drone model, pilots must take an exam for the EU drone license. This license is then equally valid in all EU states where the EU drone regulation is valid. Important: There is no distinction between private and commercial pilots. The requirements vary only according to the drone categories Open, Specific and Certified, including any subcategories. In general, therefore, every remote pilot will need such a license in the future. The only exceptions are the operation of drones with a takeoff weight of less than 250 grams and a maximum flight altitude of 30 meters, as well as models that fall under the EU Toys Directive. If the drone model has a camera, microphone or other means of recording personal data, a drone driver's license must be presented, regardless of weight. Models over 25 kilograms take-off weight also require separate proof of training and qualification.
Where can I get a driving license for drones in Austria?
In order to obtain a drone pilot's license, you must pass a theoretical exam. This can be easily taken online at Austro Control via the website dronespace.at. Future pilots can also complete the prior training with test questions there from home. The test consists of 30 questions that are answered according to the multiple-choice principle. They revolve around the topics:
general drone knowledge
In case of failure, the exam can be repeated. If the exam is passed, pilots receive a specific identifier in the form of an individual registration number (e-ID) that must be affixed to all drones they operate. If a remote identification system is available, the number must also be uploaded there. It follows that all drone operators are subject to registration if the aircraft weighs more than 250 grams or has a camera or microphone and is not subject to the EU's Toys Directive. Beyond the EU rules, Austrian law also requires drone insurance for private and commercial flights. The drone license can be taken from a minimum age of 16 years. Important: Proof of having passed the test and the valid insurance policy must be carried at all times when flying. This can be done either via a printout of the documents or via a digital proof (e.g. on the smartphone).