Blog

06
dec

Newsletter Winter 2016 – Implications of the New Regulations regarding the Use of Drones in Belgium

 

Implications of the New Regulations regarding the Use of Drones in Belgium

On 25 April 2016, the Royal Decree on the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) in Belgian airspace became effective. This Belgian regulation is a transitional regime.  The minister or the director-general may give persons who have a special experience with respect hereto permission to fly an RPAS, to act as an RPAS flight instructor and RPAS examiner for a period of one year as from the effective date of the Royal Decree on Drones.  If after one year the persons involved are unable to prove that they comply with all requirements laid down in the Royal Decree, their certificate of competency and/or operator’s certificate will be revoked.

If you fly a drone that weighs less than 1 kg for private use, you may only do this over private land, at a maximum of 10 metres above the ground, and in accordance with the privacy regulations. Heavier appliances (take-off mass of 1 kg or more) may fly higher (up to 300 feet), but there are strict rules for both operators and appliances.  Pilots must pass theoretical exams and practical tests.  For drones with a take-off mass of 5 kg or more, pilots also need flight experience and a valid medical certificate.  As a transitional measure, the minister may grant individual permissions to experienced drone operators.

Not for recreational flights

This Royal Decree applies to every RPAS

  • i.e. every unmanned aerial vehicle with a maximum take-off mass of 150 kg and under remote control from a ground control station
  • that takes off or lands on Belgian territory or operates part of the flight in the Belgian aerial space, insofar it does not come under European regulations. The provisions do not apply to model airplanes with a maximum take-off mass of less than 1 kg
    • exclusive used for recreation;
    • flying at a maximum of 10 meters above the ground;
    • used for personal purposes outside the public space;
    • which do not fly in a 3 km radius of an airport or a civil or military airport site;
    • which do not fly over industrial complexes, penitentiary centres, the LNG terminal in the port of Zeebrugge, nuclear plants or open-air crowds;
    • of which the user makes sure not to jeopardize the safety of other aircraft, people or good on the ground and
    • of which the user respects the privacy regulations.

Apart from the exception for recreational drones, RPAS used inside a building fall outside the scope of the Royal Decree. The same applies to RPAS used for military, customs and police operations, search and rescue, firefighting, coast guard or similar operations or activities.

The minister may always grant derogations from the requirements specified in the Royal Decree for public interest activities, such as traffic control or environmental monitoring activities performed on behalf of authorities.

Flight rules

Flying with a drone is partly governed by a series of European Implementation Regulations, which are directly applicable in Belgium. For example, the implementation Regulation 923/2012 contains the general operating rules for “the remotely operated aircraft system” or RPAS.

The Royal Decree, however, also contains several national provisions to be respected for every RPAS flight. Below are a few of them:

  • the operator (or, if applicable, the RPAS-monitor) must always be within the line of sight of the drone;
  • there must be enough visibility;
  • there must be sufficient distance from other aircraft:
  • the operator may not be under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication;
  • all flights must be registered in a detailed logbook;
  • the drone must be approved by the Directorate-General of Aviation;
  • the drone must be registered in the RPAS navigation register;
  • the operator must respect the privacy regulations;
  • the take-off and landing of a drone must take place at operational locations, airfields or model airplane sites;
  • during the flight the operator and control connection must be operational at all times.

Certificate or proof of competency

The operator must also hold an RPAS operator’s certificate or a proof of competency as RPA operator. With a certificate, you may operate an RPAS with a maximum take-off mass of less than 5 kg in accordance with the visual flight rules and without the aid of an RPAS-monitor.  The certificate is only valid for class 2 flights.  These are flights up to 150 feet above ground level in a non-controlled airspace (subject to restrictions).  A proof of competency is much broader and gives an operator permission to operate an RPAS for class 1 flights.  These are flights with a visual line of sight up to 300 feet above ground level in a non-controlled airspace.

The requirements for prospective operators are much more severe if you want a proof of competency. An operator’s certificate can be obtained if you are at least 16 years old, can prove that you completed a theoretical knowledge course (on aviation regulations, meteorology, the technology of the aircraft, navigation rules and privacy regulations) and can prove your practical knowledge to an RPAS examiner.

To obtain a proof of competency, you must be at least 18 years old, prove your flight experience under supervision of an RPAS flight instructor, pass a theoretical examination and prove your practical and theoretical knowledge to an RPAS examiner. The proof of competency is valid for life but may only be used if the operator can present a valid medical certificate and did at least 6 flights of at least 2 hours during the past 24 months.

Manned aircraft always have priority

In general, a drone should always give priority to manned aircraft. In principle, passenger transport, post or freight transport, aerobatic flights, formation flights, aerial spraying, towing and operations on air traffic service routes are forbidden.  The minister or his assignee (the director-general of the Directorate Aviation of the Federal Public Service Mobility), however, may grant derogations if the planned operations offer an acceptable level of safety for both air traffic and the people and goods on the ground.

 

For further information and comment, please contact Arthur Flieger (flieger@fliegerlaw.com, +32 3 238 77 66)

© 2016 A. Flieger – This publication is defined to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is transmitted with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, or any other professional services. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, professional services should be sought. You can always contact A. Flieger at flieger@fliegerlaw.com.