Overview of the new EU rules for unmanned aircraft (including model aircraft)

From 31 December 2020 new rules on the operation of unmanned aircraft (including model aircraft) apply in all Member States of the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA).

The new rules allow each Member State to choose to continue its current national rules for the operation of model aircraft without any major changes. To do so, the national authorities of each EU Member State need to define and provide an authorisation for “activities in the framework of model aircraft clubs and associations”. Any activities that fall outside this “framework” (from 31 December 2020) or are not covered by the authorisation (from 1 January 2023) automatically fall under the EU-wide rules for unmanned aircraft activities in the “open category”. For many countries these “open category rules”, which include age limits, training requirements and a height limit of 120m, are stricter than rules that currently apply to the operation of model aircraft.

So what exactly changes on 31 December 2020?

For all pilots, the main change will be the requirement to register. Who needs to register, and how this is done, depends on the requirements of each Member State. Note that each pilot also needs to make this registration information visible on the aircraft.

The operation of a model aircraft outside the “framework of model aircraft clubs and associations” will need to comply with the new “open category” rules.

The operation of model aircraft within this “framework of model aircraft clubs and associations” can continue to take place under existing national rules until 1 January 2023. What activities fall within this “framework” is for each Member State to decide. Some Member States only include members of national associations. Others also include visiting pilots. In particular pilots visiting another Member State should check with the rules for visiting pilots in that Member State (see also our section on Implementation in EMFU member countries and our FAQ).

What changes on 1 January 2023?

From 1 January 2023 all activities “in the framework of model aircraft clubs and associations” will also automatically fall under the open category requirements in the new EU legislation unless a Member State has provided an authorisation for these activities pursuant to Article 16 of the Implementing Regulation. If such authorisation has been granted, activities covered by that authorisation must comply with the requirements set out in that authorisation. This is also the case for visiting pilots.

Information on progress in each Member State on these authorisations, and what these authorisations entail, can be found in our section on Implementation in EMFU member countries. We intend to regularly update and expand this section.