Flying machines that are controlled from the ground are generally called drones. In the United States, however, the word “drone” refers to a machine used for military purposes only, an unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV] being the term given to remotely controlled flying objects employed in a purely civil context. Drones in the strict American sense are not dealt with here, and to avoid any misunderstanding the word “drone” will not be used.
German law distinguishes between model aircraft [Flugmodellen] and UAVs [unbemannten Luftfahrtsystemen]. From a legal perspective the difference between them lies exclusively in the purpose for which they are used, UAVs being employed commercially and model aircraft simply being flown for pleasure. The latter may not weigh more than five kilos and must be driven by an electric motor, a combustion engine [Verbrennungsmotor] not being allowed.
The activity of UAVs is strictly controlled. Irrespective of weight, they are subject to EU regulation No. 785/2004, that stipulates the requirements for air carriers and aircraft operators. They must be approved and licensed by the civil aviation authority of the respective country. In Germany this control is exercised at state [Länder] level, the aviation authority of each state granting permission to fly [Aufstiegsgenehmigung] within its territory. This approval may be given either for an individual flight or for a period of time. The controller of the UAV must prove his ability to fly the machine and be covered by a public liability policy, a stipulation that applies throughout the EU.
For both model aircraft and UAVs in Germany nuclear power stations, residential areas, industrial plants and military zones are off-limits. Remotely controlled flying objects are forbidden to fly within 1.5 kilometers of international airports. Under certain circumstances special permission may be given for some of the above restrictions to be relaxed for UAVs. There is some variation as to how UAVs are categorized in individual EU countries, both with regard to weight and control. In the UK the Civil Aviation Authority [CAA] regulates the use of UAVs for the whole country. Operators must obtain a UAV pilot’s licence from a qualified training entity, and each company operating UAVs has to obtain permission from the CAA to fly at specifically defined heights and distances from the operator for each type of machine it employs. Special permission has to be obtained to operate in…