What would you like to look for?
Site search
3 December 2021 What today's drone operators need to know about tomorrow's drone regulations

The adoption of the EU drone regulations into Swiss law has stalled. We explain how this came about and what it means for Swiss drone operators. Most importantly, despite the delays, it seems likely that the relevant EU regulations will be adopted into Swiss law in the near future. Therefore, Swiss drone operators should familiarise themselves with them sooner rather than later.


Under Regulation (EU) 2018/1139 of the European Parliament and the Council of 4 July 2018 ("EASA Basic Regulation"), the EU has gained the competence to regulate unmanned aircraft systems ("UAS"), that is, any aircraft operating or designed to operate autonomously or to be piloted remotely without a pilot on board (including unmanned aeroplanes, helicopters, sailplanes and powered sailplanes). Based on the authorisations in articles 57 and 58 of the EASA Basic Regulation, the EU Commission has adopted the Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 of 24 May 2019 on the rules and procedures for the operation of unmanned aircraft ("EU Regulation 2019/947") and the Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945 of 12 March 2019 on unmanned aircraft systems and on third-country operators of unmanned aircraft systems ("EU Regulation 2019/945").

EU Regulation 2019/947 has been applicable in the EU since 31 December 2020 and was expected to be adopted into Swiss law with effect from the beginning of 2021. As a rule, it requires UAS operators to register as such as well as to complete the training and exam defined by the national competent authority. Other significant restrictions compared to the current – liberal – Swiss drone regulation are the maximum flight altitude of 120 m above ground and the maximum take-off mass of less than 25 kg for UAS operations in the open category (see our blog post of 24 February 2020). Against this background, it is not surprising that the planned adoption of EU Regulation 2019/47 into Swiss law has been criticised.

Delays in the Adoption of the EU Drone Regulations

EU Regulation 2019/947 establishes three categories of UAS operations ("open", "specific" and "certified") and further sub-categories with different safety requirements, proportionate to the risk. In principle, it makes no distinction between the operation of drones and traditional model aircraft – both are considered UAS. However, upon request by a model aircraft club or association, the competent authority may issue an authorisation for UAS operations within the framework of model aircraft clubs and associations (article 16 of EU Regulation 2019/947).

Nevertheless, on 30 June 2020, the Swiss National Council's Committee for Transport and Telecommunications submitted motion 20.3916 concerning the exemption of model aircraft from the EU drone regulations ("Motion"). According to the Motion, the Swiss Federal Council should be instructed to exempt traditional model aircraft when adopting EU Regulation 2019/947 into Swiss law and to leave them to be regulated under Swiss domestic law. According to the Motion's authors, a de facto compulsory association for large sectors of model aviation in Switzerland is not appropriate. They also argued that damage or injury to third parties is extremely rare and that Swiss model aircraft regulations are proven, simple and practical. The National Council and the Council of States adopted the Motion on 10 September 2020 and 8 December 2020 respectively.

Consequences and Next Steps

Against this background, EU Regulation 2019/947 cannot be adopted into Swiss law for the time being. Hence, the existing Swiss drone regulation continues to apply to the operation of both drones and traditional model aircraft.

The delay in the adoption of EU Regulation 2019/947 also affects the adoption of EU Regulation 2019/945. Apparently, the EU sees these two regulations as a package and therefore takes the view that the adoption of EU Regulation 2019/945 is only possible if EU Regulation 2019/947 is also implemented. EU Regulation 2019/945 governs the requirements for the design and manufacture of UAS intended for operation in accordance with the rules set out in EU Regulation 2019/947, and is of considerable interest to the Swiss drone industry (including the numerous drone start-ups) with a view to equivalent access to the EU market.

The Federal Council is currently in discussion with the EU commission on the implementation of the Motion. However, it seems likely that the EU drone regulations will ultimately be adopted into Swiss law. Therefore, it is also advisable for Swiss UAS operators to familiarise themselves with the new (EU) regulations today.

With a view to a possible timely adoption of EU Regulation 2019/947 into Swiss law, in August 2021, the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) launched UAS.gate, a platform that enables voluntary registration as a UAS operator. In addition, UAS operators can complete online training and an exam. However, because Switzerland has not yet adopted EU Regulation 2019/947, it is currently still considered a third country in relation to the EU. Hence, a voluntary registration on UAS.gate is not accepted in the EU, nor is the corresponding online training and exam passed on the platform; as a rule, people operating their UAS abroad are required to register in the EU Member State where their first UAS operation takes place.

U-space Gains Momentum

While there are considerable delays in the adoption of the EU drone regulations, the implementation of the Swiss U-space (see our blog post of 24 February 2020) is progressing. In the meantime, every UAS operator has access to a smartphone and web app that facilitates the planning and execution of UAS operations. This Skyguide U-space app, for example, displays key restrictions and constraints on UAS operations (general and location specific) on an interactive map and enables flight plans to be filed and adjusted. Further, the UAS operator gets real-time audio and visual alerts for nearby manned and unmanned traffic when aircraft trajectories may conflict with his or her UAS's area of operation. If the UAS is to be operated below the U-space Facility Maps (UFM) surrounding the Zurich, Geneva, Lugano or Dübendorf aerodromes, a Skyguide approval is automatically requested directly through the Skyguide U-space app.

U-space is also gaining momentum at the European level: In April this year, the EU published three regulations which aim at establishing an EU-wide U-space, namely, (i) the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/664 of 22 April 2021 on a regulatory framework for the U-space, (ii) the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/665 of 22 April 2021 amending Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/373 as regards requirements for providers of air traffic management/air navigation services and other air traffic management network functions in the U-space airspace designated in controlled airspace and (iii) the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/666 of 22 April 2021 amending Regulation (EU) No 923/2012 as regards requirements for manned aviation operating in U-space airspace. This regulatory package will apply as of 26 January 2023. Because UAS operations will increasingly take place across borders in the future, it should be ensured that Swiss U-Space is compatible with that of the EU. Accordingly, it was also important that Switzerland was able to actively participate in the drafting of the aforementioned EU regulations.

The VISCHER Transport/Aviation team will keep you informed about developments in this area and will be happy to support you in implementing the new drone regulations.

Authors: Flavio Langenegger, Urs Haegi, Peter Kühn