Unmanned Aircraft System (“UAS”) – French Legal Update

By Gabriel Voisin, Vonnick Le Guillou


The past few months have been marked by numerous interesting developments affecting the French UAS legal framework (commercial ‘drones’). The main highlights can be summarised as follows:

  • French Civil Aviation Authority (“DGAC”) has announced an intention to revise the UAS legal framework in 2014: France has been one of the very first EU countries to provide a legal framework for UAS activities (i.e. decrees from April 2012). Following a recent meeting held by the DGAC, the authority has announced its intention to revise the current French UAS legal framework. Such changes should come into effect in 2014 (ideally by end of the first semester) following feedback provided by UAS actors. This could include more information regarding (i) the notion of ‘populated areas’, or (ii) training requirements. We recommend UAS actors to grab this opportunity to engage with the DGAC and/or relevant industry bodies (e.g. the French UAS association: Federation Française des Drones) so as to voice their views.
  • Enforcement against unlawful UAS activities: During the same meeting, France’s national aviation police (“GTA”) provided insights into enforcement activities. This follows the industry’s criticisms deploring unfair competition practices from few UAS actors. As of October 2013, around ten investigations have being carried out against French UAS actors. Those face criminal (i.e. fine up to €75,000 and/or one year of imprisonment) and/or administrative (i.e. withdrawal of authorisation) sanctions. To date, only one company based in South of France has been sanctioned.
  • French Data Protection Authority (“CNIL”) dedicates its latest newsletter to drone issues: In its latest edition, the CNIL looked into drone issues from a data protection and privacy perspective (a copy of the newsletter in French can be found here). Unfortunately, it does not contain actionable information regarding the coming position from the authority toward UAS activities. However, it confirms growing CNIL concerns regarding the use of UAS and their impact on freedoms and privacy. We recommend UAS actors to actively engage with this authority so as to anticipate and/or possibly avoid CNIL restrictions following misrepresentation or misunderstanding of actual UAS activities.   
  • French government issues a decree regulating the manufacturing and use of UAS by French army, law enforcement, custom and civil safety authorities: On December 24, 2013, French government issued a decree regulating the manufacturing and/or use of UAS by the above public authorities (a copy of the decree in French can be found here). It details, among other things, the list of information to be provided in the application for airworthiness authorisation (i.e. “dossier d’aptitude de vol”).