Spain: temporary regulations on commercial use of drones approved

08 October 2014

On 4 July 2014 the Spanish government approved a provisional regulatory framework for commercial operations of drones (the "Regulation") which sets out requirements according to the weight of the unmanned remotely controlled vehicles and the obligations of pilots and operating companies.

The Council of Ministers has adopted a provisional regime for operations with remote controlled aircraft weighing less than 150kg upon take-off, establishing conditions for their use in carrying out technical or scientific works. This Regulation is a response to the need for establishing a regulatory framework that enables the development of a technologically leading and emerging sector under safe conditions, and will be subject to implementing regulations in the following months. The new conditions are supplemented by the general regime of Act 48/1960, of July 21, on Air Navigation. 

This provisional regime will enable the use of drones on in carrying out aerial works such as: investigation and development activities, aerial agriculture related and treatments that require spreading out substances over the surface or atmosphere, including products for extinguishing fires, aerial surveys, aerial observation and surveillance, including filming and forest fire surveillance activities, aerial advertising, radio and TV emissions, emergency operations, search and rescue, and other types of special works.

Though initially, and until the definitive regulations are adopted, the operations that can be carried out are limited exclusively to non-controlled air space and to non-populated areas.

The regime establishes certain requirements depending on the weight of the aircraft upon take-off classifying the aircraft in different categories:

  • over 25kg but below 150kg for all purposes (and over 150kg exclusively for fire extinguishing and surveillance activities) shall be operated in accordance with the requirements and limits set in the relevant airworthiness certificate obtained from the Spanish Security Air Agency (AESA);
  • over 2kg and up to 25kg must be kept within line of sight at all times by the pilot which is considered to be 500 meters horizontally and 400 feet vertically; and
  •  only drones below 2kg of weight may be flown beyond the line of sight of the pilot, however only up to 400 feet and provided that technical means are put in place to guarantee location at all times. Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) needs to be obtained informing other air operators of the area and conditions where the drone is going to fly.

The Regulation also contains the requirements for testing and business development related flights.

Regardless of the weight there are some requirements that are common to all aircraft as well as for the pilots and companies that operate them which are detailed in article 50 of the Regulation.

All drones, without exceptions, must have an identification plate fixed to its structure and the companies operating them must have, among other requirements, an operations manual  and an aeronautical safety study for each operation (for example, with the maximum wind conditions for it to fly).

The Regulation clarifies that drones weighing less than 25kg do not need to be registered in the Aircraft Matriculation Register ("Registro de Matrícula de Aeronaves") under the control of the Spanish Civil Aviation General Directorate nor have an airworthiness certificate issued by the AESA. Those above said weight do need to be registered and obtain an airworthiness certificate in accordance with the Air Navigation Act as amended by the Regulation.

All pilots of drones must accredit, among other requirements, that they hold a pilot license, including an ultralight aircraft license, or evidence sufficiently that they have the technical knowledge necessary to obtain said license.

Drones may not fly within 8km from an airport and operators are obliged to obtain an insurance policy covering civil liability in accordance with the Air Navigation Act. The operator or pilot must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property.

Law 21/2003 of 7 July of Air Safety now states that certain activities will be a punishable offense if any imprudent action or omission by a drone operator when performing activities, operations and manoeuvres in the area close to an airport endangers works, installations, equipment and means of air or land in that area or the airport activities carried out in the same, including in particular the use of laser line indicators or luminous projectors which are prohibited under the new Regulation.

From a procedural perspective, while drones weighing equal or less than 25kg are subject to a mere prior notice to the Spanish Security Air Agency within five days at least in advance to the scheduled flight (notice which must include all relevant information regarding the flight and in relation to which the AESA shall issue a written acknowledge of receipt specifying the authorized activity). Those over 25 kg an specific prior authorization from the AESA must be obtained. The Regulation establishes the rule of negative administrative silence (against the general principle of positive public administrative rules in Spain) and therefore if the AESA fails to resolve a given request within the legal time period the authorization must be considered denied.

The compliance with the aforementioned requirements does not exempt the operator, who shall in any case ultimately be held responsible for the aircraft and the operation, of complying with the rest of the applicable regulations, particularly those regarding the use of radio spectrum, data protection or the capture of aerial images, nor does it exempt him from personal liability for damages caused by the operation of the aircraft.