What's changed with the new law on drones? Do drones need to be insured? What about data protection? There are a few things you need to know if you want to fly a drone safely and legally. We've put together the most important tips for drone enthusiasts.
Do you already own a drone, or are you thinking about buying one? If so, you can find all the information you need to stay out of trouble here. Being prepared is half the battle. Once you've familiarized yourself with the law and got your insurance, you'll be ready to take off and enjoy flying with peace of mind.
Switzerland adopted the European Union (EU) regulations on drones with effect from January 1, 2023. This brought a lot of changes as regards operating drones in Switzerland. You can find all you need to know in the FAQ on EU drone regulations on the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) website.
Most privately owned drones fall under the open category, which means that they don't need to be authorized by the FOCA. However, you still need to meet various requirements to ensure that you're flying legally. You're ready for takeoff if you can answer "yes" to each of these seven questions:
Yes. You actually need to register yourself as a drone operator rather than your drone as such. This became mandatory on January 1, 2023. You can register for free. You're only exempt from registration if your drone weighs less than 250 grams and isn't equipped with a camera, microphone or other recording device.
Yes, unless your drone weighs less than 250 grams, in which case the test is voluntary but still recommended. In all other cases, drone pilots must have a certificate from September 2023. The certificate is valid for five years in Switzerland and throughout the EU. The exact training and test needed depend on the subcategory and weight class of your drone. The training and test are free of charge until further notice.
That depends. Drones weighing less than 25 kilograms don't need authorization for normal operation. Authorization is needed for special situations such as the following: flying over large crowds of people, flying in built-up areas (drones weighing more than 900 grams), and flying with goggles (without an observer who has a direct line of sight to the drone). FOCA authorization is also mandatory if you're operating drones to make deliveries. In general, authorization is needed if it isn't possible to comply with all of the rules on drone operation.
Line of sight: You must be able to see your drone at all times. Note that using binoculars or VR goggles explicitly DOES NOT count as having a line of sight. Here you need another person to watch over the airspace who can take control of the drone at any time if needed. Alternatively, you can request a special authorization from the FOCA.
Maximum altitude: In the open category, you aren't allowed to fly more than 120 meters above the ground (see FOCA FAQ – section G). You can fly over artificial obstacles that are taller than this if you have the owner's permission.
Safe distance: Take care around people, animals, buildings, and other objects. Keep a safe distance, and be considerate. For each category, there's a minimum horizontal distance you must keep from uninvolved third parties (see the FOCA table).
Maintenance: Always keep your drone and related equipment in good working order, and only take off with a full battery.
Weather: Check the weather forecast and plan your flight accordingly.
Flying over people: Drones are only allowed to fly over crowds of people with authorization from the FOCA. Drones weighing more than four kilograms are not allowed to fly over any uninvolved third parties.
No-fly zones: Restricted zones are defined in Switzerland, mainly around civilian and military airfields, but also around prisons and nuclear power stations, for example. Flying drones over nature reserves (such as bird sanctuaries) and national parks is also prohibited. Different restrictions apply to the various types of restricted zone.
Do your neighbors complain when your drone flies low past their home? That's understandable. No one wants to be listened to, photographed or filmed in their own garden. With this in mind, you should talk to your neighbors first before flying around your home. Surveillance by private individuals using drones is a sensitive topic that you need to keep in mind as a drone pilot because you're subject to the Federal Act on Data Protection (FADP) – and that applies to all personal data. For instance, every individual owns the rights to his or her own image in Switzerland, meaning that you need the permission of any person who can be clearly identified on your recording.
A clear majority of Swiss people don't think flying drones is an appropriate leisure pursuit, citing noise, surveillance, and accidents among their reasons. To increase acceptance, the Swiss Federation of Civil Drones calls on drone pilots to fly with the utmost care and respect.
Generally speaking, you can get insurance for two things: damage to third parties or their property under your personal liability insurance, and to the drone itself if it gets lost, stolen or damaged. Liability insurance is mandatory for all except the smallest drones. You can also choose to insure your drone against accidental damage.
If you cause damage to a third party and don't have liability insurance, you'll have to pay the resulting costs yourself. This can quickly become expensive, especially in cases of personal injury. You also risk a fine if your drone weighs 250 grams or more because the law requires you to have liability insurance. Note that, if you have insurance but don't fly within the law (for instance without a certificate), your insurance might not pay out when you make a claim.