In response to market growth evolution in the use of civil
unmanned aircraft, or drones, on December 24, 2015, the French
Ministry of Environment published two new Ministerial
Decisions1 regulating the use of drones. These
Ministerial Decisions repeal the two existing Ministerial Decisions
of April 11, 2012,2 and while they do not change the
general regulatory framework, they bring about some clarification,
alleviate some administrative constraints, and establish new
technical requirements for these aircraft.
The regulation is refocused on the three already known types of
drone activities, which were redefined according to how the drones
are used rather than their physical or performance specifications.
"Model aircraft flying"
(aéromodélisme) is now defined as the use of
an unmanned aircraft for strictly leisure or competition purposes.
"Experimentation" is defined as the use of an unmanned
aircraft for development or adjustment of an aircraft or its
command system. "Specific activities"
(activités particulières) no longer consist
of a list of definite items but now encompass anything that does
not fall into the previous categories, whether or not the activity
is commercial and implies payment.
For the specific activities and experimentation, the new
regulatory framework results in fewer administrative constraints
and less paperwork. Some requirements for technical documents have
been eliminated or lightened. Some authorization requirements for
activities or aircraft use have also been eased by replacing them
with a simple notification to the authorities prior to
The new regulation also modifies technical requirements, which
could affect how the drones are designed. Some of the predefined
operational scenarios for specific activities have had their
perimeter extended to allow for heavier aircraft, and the maximum
distance and altitude for the requirement to operate the aircraft
within the operator's line-of-sight has been increased.
Most significantly, the new Ministerial Decisions introduce new
technical requirements for drones that will require adjustments in
the fabrication of the aircraft. The fail-safe mechanism that shuts
down motors in case of an emergency must now be completely
independent from the aircraft's automated trajectory control
measures and must be able to function in case of failure of the
latter. Furthermore, for aircraft weighing more than two kilograms
that are used in populated areas, the third-party protection
measure already in place (usually a parachute deployed after the
motors have been automatically stopped) now must automatically
engage, unless the aircraft is capable of automated vertical
landing without a third party located near the landing area or
unless the aircraft is equipped with a return-home feature.
As a reminder, the new regulation still requires that the
emission parameters and the frequency bands used to control the
aircraft and carry out the activities (such as video feed) comply
with the existing applicable regulation. The authorities explain
that as long as the aircraft conform to these parameters and use
the designated frequency bands (citing as an example an emitting
power of 100 mW in the 2,4 GHz band), an authorization to use the
frequencies is not necessary.
Finally, the new regulation introduces three new general
Camera shots are authorized for model
aircraft flying only if the main objective of the flight remains
leisure or competition, and provided that the shots are not
Unmanned aircraft activities must
comply with data protection and privacy regulations.
Night flights are permitted for model
aircraft only in designated areas and under specific conditions
established by the authorities. For specific activities, night
flights are now subject to prior authorization by the
As a result of the new Ministerial Decisions, the administrative
burden on professionals has been substantially reduced, but there
are still many more formalities to fulfill prior to any operation.
And while manufacturers are not specifically targeted by the new
regulation, the two Ministerial Decisions introduce new limitations
and technical parameters that should lead to changes in the
conception and design of future-generation models.
 Ministerial Decision of December 17, 2015 regarding
the design of civil unmanned aircrafts, their conditions of
operation, and user skill requirements, and Ministerial Decision of
December 17, 2015 on the use of air space by civil unmanned
 Ministerial Decision of April 11, 2012 regarding the
design of civil unmanned aircrafts, their conditions of operation,
and user skill requirements, and Ministerial Decision of April 11,
2012 on the use of air space by civil unmanned
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