If you’ve already built a strong drone program at your company, you might be thinking about expanding operations overseas. There is a huge competitive advantage to being an early adopter of drone technology, and the potential exists to export use cases which are proving disruptive and profitable to other countries where your company does business.
Unfortunately, complying with international regulations can be confusing.
Since commercial drones are still a relatively young industry, the regulations across the world are a rapidly changing patchwork of national laws and local ordinances. If you have already built a strong internal culture of safety-conscious and risk-averse standard operating procedures, thoroughly documented in a general operating manual and pre-flight checklists, you’re in good shape to achieve compliance in many jurisdictions. If not, click to this article for advice in laying this essential foundation.
No matter how detailed, efficient, and safe your standard operating procedures are, plan on adapting some of your processes to meet the requirements of foreign airspace regulators.
In a recent webinar, Lessons Learned: Adding Drones to a Global Enterprise, Skyward’s chief pilot, Tariq Rashid, listed some essential resources for understanding airspace compliance in multiple countries. I went back to the webinar to distill Tariq’s excellent advice in this article; you can also watch the webinar recording here.
Remember: Because this is such a new industry, regulations are evolving rapidly in many countries. Be sure to seek out the most up to date information directly from the primary source or governing body.
Eurocontrol, also known as the European Organization for the Safety of Air Control, is an excellent resource for international drone regulations and has a useful list of international RPAS (remotely piloted air system) regulations. It’s important to note that “drone” is a generic English term for a technology that has many different names, among them UAV, UAS, sUAS, and RPAS.
Eurocontrol’s list conveniently points to the primary source for each country’s laws, allowing you (or your legal team) to read the exact text of the legislation and avoid any errors from secondhand accounts or summaries. This is vital. Do not trust someone else to interpret or recount the laws for you, even if you do not speak the language. The cost of hiring a translator is less than the possible fines and lost productivity/opportunity that a violation can inflict on your operations. Beside the major European countries, Eurocontrol’s list also includes Brazil, Colombia, and Turkey.
If you don’t see the country you’re looking for on Eurocontrol, UAV Coach maintains a list of links to dozens of civil aviation authorities around the globe. If you’re looking to expand in India, Japan, Israel, or even New Zealand, you can find guideposts to the correct path to compliance. Some of the links might be dead—again, these laws are ever-evolving, and it’s difficult to keep a large list updated—but overall it is a useful starting point for an internationally expanding drone operation. One thing to keep in mind is that some of these countries (New Zealand, for example) might not make distinctions between commercial and recreational drones, so if you can’t find the specific regulations concerning commercial applications, they might not exist.
For a more thorough list of civil aviation authorities around the world, Wikipedia’s article on the subject provides a surprisingly complete and easy-to-navigate index of national airspace regulators. The links will not take you directly to the drone section of the website, but Google Chrome’s translation feature should enable you to navigate your way to the appropriate documents. To help get the ball rolling towards compliance, here are the links to several countries’ pages on drone regulations.
Municode (for Municipal Drone Ordinances in the U.S.)
As long as we’re on the subject of compliance, here’s one facet of drone law that often flies under the radar in the United States: municipal laws. In the wake of the Part 107 rollout, thousands of drones have taken to the skies across the country. Some operators, confident they are in full concordance with the law, have been surprised by legal challenges to their flights due to local ordinances. To check the laws in your area or the area of your operations, check Municode’s library of municipal codes across the country.