Geographical areas: (No)where to go?
- According to Regulation 2019/947 (art. 15), national authorities may limit or prohibit UAV operations in a part of the airspace where there are risks to (i) safety, (ii) privacy and the protection of personal data, (iii) security or (iv) the environment: these are the "UAS geographical zones". Member States must ensure that information on geographical zones is restricted only for the risks mentioned above and that it is made public, including its validity, in a single, common, digital format.
- A fortiori, where no geographical zone is defined, operations are authorised subject to compliance with the flight rules referred to in Regulation 2019/947. It is therefore essential to define the zones in which the operation of an UAV is prohibited and/or restricted.
- The Royal Decree of 8 November 2020 (art. 5) specifies that it is the Minister for Mobility who determines the geographical zones. The Minister determines these zones on his own initiative or at the request of a public authority or a legal entity with a justified interest. The BCAA is responsible for publishing the geographical zones and the conditions for access to these zones, whether through an application (website or mobile application) or the AIP (Aeronautical Information Publication) of Skeyes
- The Minister will probably take the initiative to include, among the geographical zones where all open category operations are prohibited, the zones already referred to in the Royal Decree of 10 April 2016, i.e.:
1° within controlled airspace or special status airspace (prohibited zones (P), dangerous zones (D), restrictive zones (R), helicopter training zones (HTA), low-flying zones (LFA)) when these are active) ;
2° within temporarily restricted airspace (TRA) or temporarily segregated airspace (TSA), unless this airspace is created to allow operations with a UAV in accordance with Article 14, paragraph 4 ;
3° within a radius of 1.5 nautical miles around aerodromes for aeroplanes or ultralight motorised aircraft and 0.5 nautical miles around heliports, unless prior authorisation is given by the operator of the aerodrome or heliport.
- In addition, any legal person or public authority may apply for the creation of a geographical zone. To do so, a form (not yet established) must be submitted to the BCAA indicating:
1° the reasons why the zone must be protected, which are limited to the four criteria mentioned above (security, safety, privacy, environmental protection);
2° the conditions for accessing the geographical area (periodicity, limitation to certain UAS, prior notification, prior authorisation, etc.);
3° the geographical coordinates of the zone.
In addition, the applicant will have to accompany his form with a risk analysis justifying:
1° the reasons for protection (mentioned above);
2° the usefulness of the measures, considering the interest of operators in accessing the protected area;
3° the impact of the creation of the zone on maintaining air safety and the safety of people on the ground.
The BCAA submits the request for consultation to the "parties that have an interest in view of the location of the zone" and the Royal Decree to specify that "these could be Skeyes, the Ministry of Defence, the Belgian Air Navigation Committee (BELANC) or the Belgian Civil Drone Council", but it also seems that the federal and regional administrations could be consulted. The BCAA submits an opinion to the Minister who takes a decision based on the BCAA's opinion - which is not binding.
- Finally, the Minister may decide to withdraw a geographical area when the interest to be protected has disappeared, the geographical area endangers aviation safety or is contrary to the general interest.
- With one and a half months to go before Regulation 2019/947 comes into force, operators do not have any details as to the geographical zones that will be applied. It is therefore up to entities that have not been referred to on the initiative of the Minister for Mobility and that wish to exclude overflight to submit a request to the BCAA as a matter of urgency
It should nevertheless be noted that it is possible to obtain a temporary geographical zone as a matter of urgency through the publication of a NOTAM, provided that the urgency has not been created due to a late or incomplete submission of an application.
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