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EASA Regulations Explained

Bringing My DJI Mavic to Greece

You know, you don’t need an Instagram boyfriend when you have Jackie, your trusty DJI Mavic Air 2S, to follow attentively after you on tropical beaches. DJI drones get better angles, with less complaints. Named after Jacqueline Cochran, my drone brought me tremendous joy in all my vain splendor when I finally found a way to bring it to Europe. I thought it would be relatively straight forward but turns out I was off on a wild goose chase trying to get all the correct information to fly with confidence in the EU.

So, I wanted to bring all the resources I found in one place, you know—so you can learn easily what I had to learn the hard way.

EASA Drone Regulations

I believe a recent change in EU drone laws just this past January may be the culprit to all this confusion. EU Regulation (EU) 2019/947 was passed in December 2020 and implemented the beginning of 2021 with the aim of bringing consistency to European drone laws. While member states are free to add any additional regulations, Regulation (EU) 2019/947 set a common benchmark for drone regulations in the EU, mainly a drone registration system and common drone classes acknowledge across the EU bloc. It also established the system for licensing Remote Pilots that all members would recognize.

Under this new system, drones are classified based on weight and permitted activities, while flight operations are split into three categories, Open, Specific, and Certified. I won’t go into all the juicy details, as if you are reading this you will most likely get more than you’ve ever wanted to know about EASA regulations when you take a Remote Pilot Competency course yourself. Still, I want to provide some basic sources here.

Luckily, the EU does not have as rigid specifications on flying for commercial purposes as the FAA implements here in the United States. That means that your flight is determined by your category, not your commercial intent. So, even when flying for commercial purposes, you can still follow the basic regulations for your category and class flight.

Registration and Remote Pilot Competency Certificates

Those planning on flying in the Open category will need to register their drone with an EU National Aviation Authority (NAA) in order to receive a registration number that must be displayed, similar to the process with the FAA here in the United States. OK, cool. I knew I had to register my drone, but with what country’s NAA?

Next on the list was the elusive Remote Pilot Competency certificate. This is where it got the haziest in my search. I knew that I needed to register my drone in the EU, but the process of whether or not I needed a Remote Pilot Competency certification was not as clear. Some forums and drone news sites recommended getting the certificate to be able to fly in the A1 and A3 categories. A separate certificate can be acquired after that allows for closer flights to crowds of people.

Everything I was reading said all this should be done in the country where I would first be entering the bloc. So naturally, I looked to Greece. However, going through the Hellenic aviation authority’s (HCAA) website is a bit of a nightmare. There is a portal system that seems to log in to Narnia, as it literally links to nowhere. There is no clear registration process on the website. Linking to the UAS tab on the menu bar sends you to a PDF that is actually a request form for special flights—I’ll touch on that later. There is a brief line about non-EU citizens registering their drones using the vague language of “applying” by emailing the HCAA directly. However, this again led only to more questions.

It was then that I realized I could technically go through any EU member state for both the registration and certification processes. I first turned to Austria, as I have experience with the efficiency of the Austrian government having lived there. The BMK’s Supreme Civil Aviation Authority does have an easier system for registering drones, as well as an option for taking the certification exam. However, that exam had to be done in person and registration was expensive. I also found a number of online German drone schools that promised help with registration and the certification course and exam conducted remotely via their online platform. Yet, these too were quite expensive, around €189 to €280 depending on the level of certification sought.

Annoyed, I again turned my research to Greece. I thought I had hit the jackpot randomly finding a drone school in Greece that offered online test proctoring for the certificate. I actually found the location when searching for luggage storage in Piraeus, the port city near Athens, as I was trying to find a place to stash my bulkier luggage for a ferry ride to Hydra. At first, everything fell right into place. They had online lessons on a private YouTube and a strong course book provided as a PDF broken down into digestible sections. Best part, it was only €89, much cheaper than the private German drone schools or the Austrian government’s program that I had found.

However, everything fell apart when I went to actually take the exam. There were terrible typos. Now, I’m not talking about superficial little mistakes as a result of the translation into English. The question asking about the definition of VLOS did not have Visual Line of Sight as an option—nope the correct answer turned out to be “Virtual Line of Sight.” The scope of that mistake would not be lost on any drone pilots, as the whole point of Visual Line of sight is to require the pilot to keep visual not virtual sight on his or her UAV! Don’t even get me started on the scoring system. It’s math was just flat out wrong and kept reporting me as under the 75% required benchmark, yet even the numerical reporting of the scores showed I had enough points for an 82%.

The manager apologized for the subpar, typo ridden questions, and explained that these were the ones provided by the Hellenic Aviation Authority. Wait, what? Speaking of the HAA, I was the directed to go to the HAA portal and use a tax code to pay for my certification. Yet, I was unable to do so. When I contacted the HAA support email, a very blunt Greek aviation worker was clear to rectify the company’s mistake via email. Turns out, you need a Greek tax number to be issued a Remote Pilot Competency certificate in the country. Although companies will sell you courses and proctor the exam, you will not be issues your certificate. The owner of the drone school seemed completely in awe at the news and luckily was willing to give me the tuition back. How he had no idea foreign nationals could not be issues the certificate in his home country in his area of expertise is beyond me, but the moral of this little tangent is to avoid Greek drone schools and certification programs.

Cypriot Department of Civil Aviation

The one good thing about that whole debacle was that I was pointed to the EU aviation authority with the cheapest and easiest system. The same blunt Greek aviation employee recommended I seek registration and certification cervices through the neighboring country of Cyprus, which is also part of the EU. To my pleasant surprise, Department of Civil Aviation’s website was a dream to navigate compared to Greece’s.

The website was well-translated into English and offered clear action steps. The portal for registering and taking the test was easy to use and extremely efficient. The best part, the fee for the entire course was only €15, plus another €15 to take the exam! The test material was very similar to the Greek drone school I had paid triple for and provided a comprehensive, well-rounded review of what was actually on the test. And thank God, the test itself asked the same question about the definition of VLOS, but the correct answer was Visual Line of Sight this time! Honestly, I commend Cyprus for its streamlined system and highly recommend it for anyone trying to register their drone or acquire a Remote Pilot Competency certificate in the EU.

Tips for Flight Planning

Now that you have you registration and certificate squared away, there are other key resources that will help plan your flights in Europe. One key site is the EU Commission’s virtual wilderness and natural protections map, Natura 2000. NAA environmental maps highlight off-limit areas based on natural and ecological concerns, where drone flight is prohibited based on shared EU regulations. Check the map before making any flight plans to ensure you don’t end up droning in a protected wildlife preserve or protected natural area.

As I said before, each member state is able to add on the benchmark of regulations set by the EASA. Most member states do have their own little idiosyncrasies we need to be aware of in order to plan legal flights. Greece has many. Drone Aware is the map provided by the HCAA that helps you navigate the complicated regional off-limit zones. It shows you special and prohibited flight zones thanks to airports, ports, and other areas of national interest. Greece is a country renowned for its archeological sites and thus there is a lot of off-limit areas based on protecting archeological sites, especially the most well-known. Make sure you check the Drone Aware map before any of your flights. The map must also be referenced for any special requests made to the HCAA.

Speaking of which, any flights above 50m need special permission issued through the HCAA. Although honestly, I think I had underestimated 50 meters. As us stubborn Americans always fail to comprehend the metric system beyond the measurement of illegal substances, I thought I would need higher than 50m quote often. Turned out, I didn’t. Still, it is nice to have that certificate and be able to request for special height or location flights when something interesting crosses your path. Given my procrastination in planning my trip, I wanted to be flexible. I literally was planning where I’d be flying the week prior as I traveled through the Greek islands and countryside. Thus, I thought that having everything locked down would give me more options.

Unfortunately, Jackie was stolen in Athens. Thank God for insurance, 10 out of 10 would recommend Skywatch AI for how simple the claims process was on their international policy. Now, if my miserly traveler’s insurance agent would follow suit for my other stolen goods, I’d be ecstatic. Despite her short trip, I enjoyed every minute with Jackie. I would do it all over again, considering the killer footage I got on some of the most beautiful isles of the Cyclades.

Now, I have not had the opportunity to fly in other EU countries. However, I will be updating this guide as my wanderlust sends me on new adventures, so make sure to check in before your next European trip! What should I name Jackie’s replacement?

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