I found out yesterday that the relatively relaxed regime, compared to some other countries in Europe anyway, of controls and rules affecting the flying of ‘leisure’ drones in France is about to change. As from July 1 2020, France will be adopting a common pan-European system of rules and regulations meaning that there will be changes here affecting what you can and can’t do and also what you’ll have to do to even fly a drone anywhere in the country.
There are several classes of drones and I’m not going to go through the whole gamut of changes and how they will affect each class. Instead I’ll restrict myself to describing how the changes will affect me personally as well as the majority of other private drone users, as mostly they will also have drones similar in weight and characteristics to what I own and am in the process of acquiring.
My little Eachine E16 weighs 210 grams and the Fimi X8 SE 2020 that I have on order 765 grams, so both come in under the current weight limit of 800 grams. This means that neither currently has to be registered in any way and anyone can pilot them without demonstrating any kind of skill or experience. Pilots merely have to observe the relatively few regulations that apply and stick to some fairly basic rules. Penalties for breaking them can, however, be quite painful involving terms of imprisonment and fines up to 75,000€ in extreme cases as well as confiscation of equipment which would be relatively trivial in comparison.
The first requirement is that all drones must be flown only in line-of-sight. There is a possibility of allowing flights ‘in total immersion’ ie using just a FPV screen or goggles, but then there must be a second person present. I’m not sure how this would work in practice given that the drone could be out of view of the second person if at some distance, so maybe this still means that the drone must be in their line of sight, but it’s of no interest to me anyway.
The second consideration is that pilots must observe No-Fly-Zones (NFZs) and areas where height restrictions apply. Where there are no other restrictions, the maximum height at which drones can be flown is 150 metres but aside from obvious places like prisons, nuclear power stations, airports and the like there is an enormous number of other areas where height restrictions apply which can be found here on an interactive map covering the whole of France.
The map shows, for example, that there are vast tranches of countryside that are NFZs eg areas of national parks. Also, every town, village or commune of any significance is a NFZ, including Plazac, Fleurac, Rouffignac and Montignac in my area. However, where I live on a hill outside Plazac the maximum height to which I can fly my drone is 50 metres, the same as at Malbec, our airfield. However, should I want to nip across to just south-west of Fleurac, the height increases to 100 metres before increasing further out to the ‘unrestricted’ maximum of 150 metres.
There are other considerations – for example, you’re not allowed to fly over parks, other public places and rivers in ‘built-up areas’ and from time to time, temporary restrictions might apply elsewhere, for an event, for example. Although you should try to avoid them, you are allowed to fly over people and vehicles but you are not allowed to do so over assemblies or large groups. No night flying is allowed whatsoever.
There is a grey area of ‘privacy’. You need permission from a land-owner to fly over private land although this is almost a practical impossibility for an area of ‘significant’ size over which one would fly the Fimi X8, for example, due to the often highly fragmented nature of land ownership in France. I suspect it’s highlighted merely as a way to throw the book at a drone operator in the event of an incident or something going wrong in some way.
There is also a vagueness in the way that ‘personal privacy’ is approached. In a ‘built-up-area’ you are allowed to fly your drone over your garden, but if it has a still or video camera on-board, you should advise your neighbours accordingly. I’ve done that, actually, and all my neighbours know that I have a drone but will be going out of my way to respect their personal privacy and none has expressed any objection. Quite the opposite for some, in fact.
You should also avoid taking pictures of people’s faces and vehicle registrations, for example, that are recognisable or readable, and you are prohibited from publishing such items without their permission. On no account whatsover may you publish such material for commercial reward.
That more or less sums up how things are done at the moment but as from July 1 there will be some changes, some of which are relatively significant. Not all of the details have yet been published, so it’s assumed that where no change has been identified, the status quo will apply.
The most significant overall change is that the ‘unrestricted’ height at which all drones can fly will be reduced from 150 metres to 120 metres. I am not sure how much effect this will have in the normal run of things because I doubt that a change in height of 30 metres is detectable and nobody will be around trying to do checks anyway.
However, drones like the Fimy X8 create a log of each flight (eg I found the ones for the two very short flights that I achieved with the faulty EX4 that is now on its way back to China) and much like the current requirement involving getting permission from landowners to fly over their land, I think that in the event of an accident or incident, the drone operator will be required to produce the flight log for analysis and will be subject to penalty if it’s found that they were flying above the height limit.
The line-of-sight requirement and the other existing height restrictions will continue to apply after July 1.
Now onto the drones themselves. Currently the EG16 and the X8 SE fall within the same category but this will change after July 1. The EG16 will fall into Category A1, Class C0 and the X8 into Category A1, Class C1. They will both be subject to the same basic requirements but some additional demands will be made for the heavier of the two, the Fimi X8 SE.
Both drones will need to have a maximum speed of less than 19 metres/sec (both do have), to be registered on-line and conform to CE regulations, which again both do. Drones which are not CE approved will be allowed in the future but will face stringent requirements for remaining well clear of people and vehicles amongst other things, making them far less desirable.
The other major change relates to the pilots of all drones including both of mine. All pilots will have to take an on-line training course and pass a 20 question multiple-choice exam. I think, but am not sure, that the pass rate also has to be 100% but this is not an overly demanding requirement as the exam is also done on-line and can be attempted as many times as needed until you get through.
This is not the case with the heavier and/or professional classes of drone for which the demands are more stringent and their pilots have to attend the DGAC for both training and their exam.
No other technical requirements will be made of the little EG16 but this is not the case for the heavier X8 SE. The latter will have to have an on-board NFZ Recognition System which will prevent it entering such zones (the X8 SE does have) plus it will be required to have a ‘system for identification at distance’. I have no idea what this means and nobody else does either at this time.
Finally, there are differences in the ‘rules’ that will apply regarding the distances that must be maintained between the drones and people. I will be allowed to intentionally fly the EG16 over people and vehicles but not, as now, over assemblies or large groups. For the heavier X8SE, the same will apply for assemblies and large groups of people but I will only be allowed to ‘unintentionally’ fly over sundry people and vehicles.
This is, once again, a very vague requirement. It presumably means that if you are flying the drone in line-of-sight but at a distance where there are people that you cannot see, you will be excused for flying over them. But as before, if there is an incident or accident involving your drone and those people, may the Lord help you!
I think that’s about it and a reasonable summary of what’s going to happen. Other factors may come to light between now and July 1 but I’m not going to stop my drone flying and will still be going ahead with my Fimi X8 SE 2020 purchase. Actually, at the moment after watching a host of Youtube videos of it, I can’t wait to get my hands on it 😉