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The European Union adopted two regulations on 11 June setting common rules for drone usage in the bloc, which can increase certainty in the airspace that is being disrupted by drones by the day. Francesca Ferrando, Advisor for Shipping and Aviation at KPMG in Malta tells Business Malta that the harmonised rules come in just the right time.

“Although there are regulations for aviation and aircraft, and drones do fall under that category, there is no drone regulation currently in place,” Ms Ferrando says about the drone usage landscape in Malta. “Additionally, while the Air Navigation Order does apply to drone operations, this law was set in the nineties, when nobody thought about drones in their current form,” she adds when describing the present sentiment. Therefore, the European Union regulations just passed and entering into effect next year come in a timely manner.

Due to being easily accessible in the market, users often falsely assume that drones are rather toys, however, flying them outdoors poses numerous risks and can bring danger to the airspace of any country. The regulations are expected to break down the misconceptions related to drones.

Francesca Ferrando, Advisor for Shipping and Aviation at KPMG Malta, expects the new regulations to bring peace of mind to the drone vertical. (source: KPMG Malta)

The new EU rules regulate both the technical and operational requirements for drone usage. In fact, each and every drone must be registered in the member state, where the owner resides or their main place of business is by June 2020. The two regulations came into force within 20 days of 11 June, however, they will only be applicable as of June 2020. Ms Ferrando says this will bring peace of mind to the market. Furthermore, she notes that the European Union passed regulations and not directives, so the rules will be automatically applicable in all member states.

The environment will be unified, which means that instead of haphazard rules in every member state, the same guidelines will apply everywhere. Nevertheless, Malta does slightly stand out due to the fact that the air space is entirely controlled.

Malta’s controlled airspace

“Malta is a very specific country. Usually, we talk about controlled and uncontrolled airspace — most countries have both. However, Malta only has controlled airspace. Generally, drones are not allowed within the controlled airspace in other countries. Therefore, local authorities will set out how drone usage could work in Malta, within the controlled airspace,” Ms Ferrandio explains. The professional adds that this falls under the scope of Transport Malta’s Civil Aviation Directorate.

Flying drones can also raise privacy issues, especially if the unmanned aircraft is equipped with a camera that records either private properties or passers-by in public spaces. Ms Ferrando underscores that the data protection and privacy laws already cover for this. “Regardless of anything else, legislation already in place must be followed. A collection of images of identifiable individuals may be subject to data protection law. That of course also applies to drones flying with recording devices on board.”

At the moment, if an individual is planning to fly a drone, they are required to fill in a self-declaration form on Transport Malta’s website. “If the individual can answer yes to all the listed requirements, they can self-declare that they abide by the conditions or operational requirements. If one cannot approve one of the elements on the list, they need to apply for a single permit, for now at least,” Ms Ferrando says.

How will the new regulations change the drone game in Malta? “They will definitely increase the certainty that we do not currently have in Malta, or anywhere else in the European Union. Having a law gives certainty in terms of what is meant to be done. The regulations will also bring a uniform playing field across the bloc, which is another advantage,” Ms Ferrando adds.

Nevertheless, the adoption of the regulations is only the first step. Further guidance will be issued by the end of the year related to how the rules have to be applied. At the same time, there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration. “Right now air traffic management regulates only manned aircraft. With the increase of drone operations lair traffic management will be required for both manned and unmanned aircraft. This is also going to be an exciting development,” Ms Ferrando concludes.