In recent years, we have experienced a rapid development of technology in the area of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as drones. They are used in a myriad industries – from transporting blood to film production.
In light of aviation law regulations, drones can essentially be divided into two categories – drones with a total weight up to 25 kg and exceeding 25 kg. Aviation law applies to the latter. According to the provisions of aviation law, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can fly in Polish airspace based on a filed flight plan and provided they are equipped with the same flight, navigation and communication instrumentation as manned aircraft executing flights in certain airspace classes. Since there exists no complex regulation concerning the use of drones with the total weight exceeding 25 kg, using them requires consent for designating special airspace and allowing the operation of drones there, issued following an assessment of the drone’s suitability for the flight.
Commercial use of drones weighing up to 25 kgNo specific regulation exists for executing drone flights beyond the operator’s visual line of sight (VLOS). Therefore, for such flights – also in the case of drones weighing up to 25 kg – it is required to designate an air zone for flights beyond the visual line of sight.
In the case of standard drones, with a maximum take-off weight up to 25 kg – as long as they are used for commercial reasons – it is required to obtain a certificate of competency of the unmanned aerial vehicle’s operator, undertake aero-medical examinations and obtain third party liability insurance.
It has to be emphasized that all flights related to rendering services are considered commercial flights, including services such as photography or video making. In such cases, it is required to have a certificate of competency, i.e. a relevant pilot license. It is issued by the President of the Civil Aviation Authority when a candidate completes training and passes a national practical and theoretical exam. So far, over 1000 such certificates have been issued in Poland.
It has to be remembered that the violation of aviation law regulations is subject to a fine or restriction of personal liberty or imprisonment for one to five years.
The operator’s responsibilities and liability
Essentially, the drone’s operator:
1) ensures every unmanned aerial vehicle they operate is used in a manner that does not pose a risk to persons, property or other airspace users;
2) executes a flight taking into consideration meteorological conditions and information on restrictions in air traffic;
3) executes a flight in a manner that ensures maintaining a safe distance from people and property in the case of failure or loss of control over the unmanned aerial vehicle;
4) remains liable for the decisions about executing a flight and its correctness.
Moreover, before the flight, the operator must check the technical condition of the drone and verifies the correctness of its function and performance of its control equipment.
It needs to be noted the relative altitude above 150 m is intended for planes and other aircraft. Since their pilots are not able to spot devices as small as drones, it is the drones’ operators who are responsible for keeping a safe distance from other objects.
For safety reasons, drone flights in some airspace is restricted. In general, flying models or unmanned aerial vehicles flying beyond the visual line of sight are operated keeping the following conditions:
1) ensuring continuous and full control of the flight, in particular through remote control with the use of radio waves;
2) in a manner avoiding collision with another airspace user;
3) executing flights outside the controlled traffic regions (CTR), unless the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency consents to entering the area at least 7 days before the planned flight.
For the flights in airport traffic areas or within a radius of less than 5 km from the border of an airport or an airfield, a permission of the airport/airfield manager is required. The guidelines for obtaining conditions for executing flights within the visual line of sight of unmanned aerial vehicles in the airport’s controlled traffic region is available at the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For executing flights in the center of Warsaw, it is required to have an additional permission of the Government Protection Bureau (BOR).
It also has to be emphasized that a division of airspace into air zones is a complex issue. There exist many categories restricting the operation of drones. The map of airport zones in Poland, divided into sectors, is available at the Flight Information Service (FIS) website. However, one has to bear in mind that such maps tend to be inaccurate and it is difficult to unambiguously determine the borders between the different zones on such basis. Therefore, before taking photos, one should verify, by checking at dedicated websites (e.g. https://droneradar.eu/), that using a drone in a given zone is permitted. It is best to do this directly with the FIS department.
Privacy and personal data
The Civil Aviation Authority has announced the introduction of changes in the regulations concerning the use of drones – i.e. increasing the take-off weight from 25 kg to 150 kg and exclusions from the rules concerning other unmanned aerial vehicles weighing 600 g. What is more, the works are being carried out on the regulation which will determine the rules for executing flights beyond the operator’s visual line of sight. These may be significant changes for the film and advertising industries – more options may be created with respect to using drones in film documentation or shooting.