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

From 31 December 2020 new EU 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). Switzerland is also applying these rules from 1 January 2023.

The new EU rules allow each Member State to choose to continue its current national rules for the operation of model aircraft without 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 most 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.

What changed on 31 December 2020?

For all pilots, the requirement to register was introduced. 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” were able to continue 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.

What changed on 1 January 2023?

Since 1 January 2023 all activities “in the framework of model aircraft clubs and associations” 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.

Information applicable rules in each EMFU member country following the introduction of the new EU rules can be found in our section on Implementation in EMFU member countries.

To assist clubs and associations with obtaining an Article 16 Authorisation, the EMFU has produced Guidance on the implementation of Article 16 of Regulation 2019/947. This guide was prepared with funding from and in cooperation with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).