By: Siddhant Tiwari
Mankind has yearned to take to the skies since centuries, and this interest is visible in the fact that aviation is one of the fastest progressing field in the world, growing by leaps and bounds since the Wright Brothers first took to air. Today, as we stand at the cusp of yet another milestone, that is the onset of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones as they are more popularly referred to, it is quite clear to ascertain where the future of aviation is headed. Drones are not just a flash in the pan, rather they are the ‘new normal’. Drones are everywhere- be it delivering parcels, launching an attack on the adversary, or even spraying fertilizers on large swathes of land. This article compares the various regulations centered around safe and controlled operation of drones in the USA, UAE, and Germany, and strives to understand where the difference in core values of the respective countries lies. Three parameters shall be used here for comparison, namely requirements for registration of user and drone, general rules for hobby/recreational flying, and rules in force for commercial UAV flying.
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EVOLUTION OF DRONE LAWS
Unlike general aviation technology (both civil and military), which evolved over almost a century post the Wright Brother’s first flight, UAV technology has been around for far less time in comparison. Lawmakers and experts have found it hard to keep up with the blinding advances in this field, often lagging behind and catching up later on. With that context in mind, it would be unfair to say that drone laws are insufficient or incapable of encompassing all the facets of usage of drones. It is one of the fields where ‘trial and error’ method has proved to be more accurate than any other method, especially because no one could have foreseen that UAVs would become such an integral part of our lives in such a short span of time.
This has been enabled by developments in allied fields such as AI, improved computing, lighter and stronger materials for aviation purposes and last but not the least, a change in consumer mindset. Most of the developed nations have come out with their own set of drone laws after much deliberation and learning from experiences. Some of them are discussed in detail below.
DRONE REGULATIONS IN THE U.S.A.
The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is the overseeing body when it comes to drafting of rules and regulations related to aviation in US, including drone laws. Rules may differ slightly from state to state across mainland America however their essence remains essentially the same. As far as requirements for obtaining a commercial drone pilot license are concerned, an aspiring user must be able to read, write and speak English (exception may be made for persons with speech/hearing disabilities) and must generally be in a sound mental and physical state to operate the UAV. The minimum age requirement for the applicant is sixteen besides which two tests/screenings need to be cleared. The first one is Aeronautical Knowledge Test (also known as Part 107 Test). A safety screening conducted by TSA (Transport Safety Administration) also needs to be cleared to obtain the license.
For hobby flying, no license is required, and the rules as mandated by FAA explicitly bar a hobby flyer from undertaking any kind of commercial flying. The UAV needs to be registered on the FAA portal built for this purpose. All flying is to be conducted in visual LoS (Line of Sight) and away from other air-traffic as well as scenes of emergency. Most importantly, the drone must weigh below 55 Lbs. and it can only be flown in Class G airspace. For operation in higher classes of airspace, airspace authorization must be sought from the concerned department.
Commercial drone flying can be taken only after a Remote Pilot Certificate is obtained from FAA and just like in the case of hobby flying the drone has to be registered with FAA. The weight of drone including payload can not exceed 55 Lbs and it can not be flown above 400 ft or faster than 100 Mph. All commercial flying is to be undertaken during daytime while avoiding populated areas and directly flying over people. A manned aircraft has the right of way in all cases. Class G airspace condition can be waived off upon receiving FAA Part 107 waiver. USA has been at the forefront of commercial drone development as well as for military purpose. It goes without saying that the rules will continue to get amended with newer technologies as well as changing requirements.
DRONE REGULATIONS IN THE U.A.E.
The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) is the apex body overseeing drone rule creation and enactment in the emirate. Just like in the US, a drone pilot has to first and foremost obtain a flying license, called Operator Training Certificate from any of the approved academies and get his/her drone registered with the GCAA. Post obtaining the NOC, the rules are quite simple and straightforward. There are two important rules in this regard. The first one clarifies that flying near airports is strictly prohibited in order to avoid near miss situations with civil aircrafts, as has happened in the future. The second rule is about abstaining from flying in the ‘No-Fly Zones’, which are clearly demarcated and can be seen using the UAE Drone Fly Zone Map application. In short, the country has managed to simplify the registration and air space management aspect quite effectively.
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After obtaining requisite NOC using the process mentioned above, a recreational flyer may operate their drone within the ambit of certain rules. The drone must weigh 5 Kg or less and must remain in LOS and not fly beyond 400 ft. Image/video capturing is disallowed unless the operator has a valid Emirate ID registered with the GCAA. A minimum distance of 5 km has to be maintained from the outer fence of all aerodromes/heliports/locations from where any aviation activity is being undertaken. Certain rules are common between hobby and commercial flying namely avoiding creating nuisance to the common public or endangering any personal/public property. In case of re-selling of drone, owner is responsible for informing GCAA through the proper channel. Minimum age of 21 years is necessary to fly drones weighing more than 25 Kg.
In the case of commercial drone operations in UAE, the operator must mandatorily pass the UAS GCAA exam on top of holding the standard operators’ certificate. Most importantly, the operating individual/company has to take requisite approval for every single flight operated towards commercial purposes. The permission ceases to be valid after completion of the sortie for which it was obtained. Additionally, it is important to know that anyone desirous of operating a drone in Dubai specifically, must also follow the rules for remotely piloted aircrafts established by the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) on top of rules prescribed by GCAA. In case of loss or accident of a drone, the operator is solely responsible to inform about the same to GCAA as early as possible.
DRONE REGULATIONS IN GERMANY
The apex authority on all matters pertaining to aviation in Germany is the Federal Aviation Office (FAO). In 2017, a new Drone Regulation came into force in the country which clearly outlined the rules and requirements for any individual/company seeking to undertake drone operations. Interestingly, Germany has clubbed some drone rules for applicability on RC model aircraft which have been in vogue since many decades and are not necessarily seen in the same light as drones. Notwithstanding, a ‘Certificate of Knowledge’ is required for operating all UAVs weighing above 2 Kg. These certificates are valid for 5 years and minimum age to apply is 14 years. No flying permit is required for drones weighing upto 5 Kg. However, for all drones above 5 kg and for all night flying operations, a flying permit is mandatory.
The Federal Ministry of Transport & Digital Infrastructure does not explicitly differentiate between hobby and commercial drone flying, and this is where it is most different from its sister bodies in USA and UAE. The focus is more towards aerospace hygiene and safety of men and material. Some might argue that such a generalized approach in formulation of rules creates a lacuna in law enforcement while other proponents of the theory are all for its simplicity and transparency. With the above fact in mind, the country mandates that all drones regardless of their weight and usage must be insured and all drones above 250 gm must carry a fireproof sticker for easy identification of drone in case of loss/accident. The sticker should carry the basic details of user like name, address, and contact details.
Additionally, all UAVs have to maintain a minimum distance 1.5 Km from an airfield/helipad. A permit is required to fly above 100 meters (50 meters in case of controlled airspace). Direct visual contact is mandatory as far as practicable. Basic courtesies like not causing disturbance to fellow citizens, avoiding damage to property and maintaining minimum distance of 100 m from large gatherings are to be followed. It can be said that this is a more humane approach towards formulation of guidelines, albeit at the cost of certain ambiguity and scope of inadvertent law infringement.
On a case to case basis, the rules and regulations around the safe and productive use of UAVs in USA, UAE and Germany have each got their merits and de-merits. The positive thing to note here is that these nations have attempted to keep the process as simple to understand as possible. Many a times, several noble initiatives and technologies are nipped at the bud for the lack of supporting legal framework, or simply because the government demonize them before fully understanding them. It is heartening to note that these three nations have gone all out to support this upcoming technology and are continuously working to further streamline the regulations and processes.
Drone laws have evolved massively from their initial days. It has certainly taken a lot more time and debate to create and implement them than should have normally taken, and this delay can easily be attributed to an array of ethical and security issues that stem from drone operations. Despite all these rules, it is comparatively easier for negative elements in the society to misuse UAVs for all sorts of nefarious purposes. As drones become progressively better with each passing day, it remains to be seen if rules and regulations can keep up with the pace of technical development, what with concepts like AI and IOT not coming into the fray and making the process of law formulation for drone operations even more complicated. As in the case of above three states, each has something unique to offer. While USA focuses on specifying each technical aspect to the dot, UAE has made it easier for users to access the information thereby ensuring higher abidance. Germany, on the other hand, has kept the rules simple and inclusive in hope of ensuring easier adaptability to the rules.
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