Photography Drones are going to be on top of many a Christmas wish list this year and of course we’re going to have our heart set on trying it out on our next holiday. We know Italy is every drone pilots dream, a mixed soup of landscapes, every angle offering you stunning villages, historical sites and sea scapes. It will be like taking your tourist snapshots to another level entirely, so how high can you go and where can you go? This article intends to answer a few of these questions.
The Italian government especially at a local level has been quite sensitive with allowing drone photography over vast parts of its cultural and historical heritage such as the Roman Forum or the historical city centres, however flying drones has been largely left unregulated. In fact, in a country with very tight privacy laws such as Italy you may quickly run into legal trouble if you don't know the rules. In any event, you should never take photographs or recordings of any Italians in their home, their garden, their car, without their permission or in any other public space. If your drone activity violates someone's private life, and they do make an official complaint you may quickly end up in the Italian courts.
Before, if you had a toy drone, there was no need to get a licence and you wouldn't need to take out an insurance policy, no air-traffic regulations, no need to register. However under the new European Drones Regulation which will enter into effect on January 1st, 2021, all EU drone pilots will be subject to a new set of rules which Italy has also adopted. You don't really need to know the details of how the governing parties and responsibilities are formed under this new law, just to know that it all falls under the jurisdiction of the EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency). The new rules mean that particularly amateur photographers like me, will have to start taking more responsibility.
What type of drone pilot are you?
To determine this the EU has now defined several classifications for drones and their operators. Basically, I’ll have to start by asking myself : What do I intend to do with my drone and how much heavy is my drone? The first classification depends on the type of flights I’ll be making with my drone but, moreover, how potentially dangerous these operations might be. Obviously not dangerous to my drone, but how much chance there is of crashing into a Roman temple or a UNESCO Heritage site, but obviously also the risk of it crashing on to someone's head...ouch! The image below will hopefully help you out. Essentially, it is no longer relevant whether I’m operating this so-called UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) as a professional or an amateur, the fundamental question that you need to ask yourself is: will I present a danger or increased risk of injury or possibly incur damages to public or private property.
These are the basic rules every drone pilot has to stick to in Italy
- Don't fly over 120 m in altitude (400ft) unless you are licensed to do that.
- Fly at least 50 m away from objects higher than 105 m
- Verify the existence of any flight restrictions for the area in which you intend to operate
- Read and know the instructions in your drone operating manual
- Have the appropriate qualifications
- Familiarize yourself with local rules regarding the use of airspace and civil aviation regulations
- Don’t fly over processions, sporting events or a concert and other large gatherings
- Don’t fly over airports - or in no-fly zones
- Don't fly over National Parks or national monuments unless you are in possession of a temporary or permanent exception provided by the Park or local authorities
The classifications which will probably be most relevant to you and me are the Open and Specific. To put it bluntly, anything that doesn't fall under Open is considered Specific. For the Specific category, special authorizations are needed which will be evaluated from time to time by competent bodies of governance. More information is here : https://www.easa.europa.eu/domains/civil-drones-rpas
The Open Classification
So, what does the Open classification actually include? Essentially, it includes the operation of a drone for recreational purposes. Primarily this would include relatively light drones.
These are the criteria:
- VLOS flight - Drones that remain in your line of sight
- Drones which have a MTOM weight less then 25 Kg (MTOM : maxium mass at take-off)
- Cannot fly over a maximum altitude of 120 metres
- Drone must have the CE certification label
Not clear? Read more on this page . Understanding the Open Classification
The Specific Classification
If your drone doesn't fit the above 4 criteria you’ll be classified as ‘Specific’ which isn’t the end of the world, however it does mean more rules to follow. I know a Mini Mavic potentially flies over 120 m high and much further than your field of vision. Just know that in the unlikely event you are caught over the limits you can expect a fine.
Not clear? Read more on this page : Understanding the Specific Classification
the Subcategories A1-A3
There are however a few more subcategories: A1, A2 and A3 which are more about the proximity and danger to people. I have taken the liberty to simplify them for you :
In addition, there is another sub classification which is related to the mass of the drone:
- C0: MTOM < 250 g
- C1: MTOM < 900 g
- C2: MTOM < 4 kg
- C3: MTOM < 25 kg
Actually expect to need a licence to fly in any of these categories unless your drone is a toy that weighs under 250grams: if I was thinking about purchasing a Mavic Air 2 which weighs 570 grams (C1) and in fact I may be flying it near and above people, I will need to pass an online course which consists of 40 multiple choice questions. But if I intend on flying my drone close to people and it exceeds 900 grams (see the CE certification label) I’d need to pass an additional theoretical test carried out at a licensed flight training centre.
What’s this CE certification about?
The new CE certification label on drones will always indicate the classification of the drone i.e. CE-01, CE-02. This makes choosing a drone a little easier. Make sure the drone you want to purchase is CE certified and under a certain weight limit and then just respect the rules.
What are transponders? And why do I need to know.
If you are flying a drone over 250 grams in weight you will be needing an electronic identification device (ADS-B). In fact very little is known about this illusive device except that we should know more about it after January 2021. However, it will be necessary to fly in the A1 and A2 category.
Permitted flight areas in Italy
Okay, so all of this has been easy up to now, but here’s the catch if you were looking for one. Italy has a website where you’ll need to register your drone before flying it. https://www.d-flight.it/new_portal/ Not only will you need to register your drone which is free up to a point, you will also need to consult the map before you fly anywhere.
When registering a drone with a hi-definition camera or video camera it will cost an extra € 6. If you're flying for professional purposes you’ll probably end up paying the yearly subscription fee of € 24 plus the registration cost of any drones. A pro subscription will also allow you to access map overlays such as Aerial, Road, Street Maps and Dark maps and Land Usage and Population Census information. As you will quickly notice all the lovely places you were thinking about flying your drone are prohibited. Portofino, Cinque Terre, the historical centre of Rome to name but a few, generally all the red zones on the map and more, a lot! However, I could fly over the town of Ostuni in Puglia, which I think is equally nice as one of the Cinque Terre towns or over the magnificent town of Montepulciano in Tuscany, but only on weekdays, so no holidays or weekends. Remember the rule: Verify the existence of any flight restrictions for the area in which you intend to operate. In fact, major tourist sights and national parks are probably uninviting to drone photographers, which is a shame, however it is done to protect the natural habitat of local critters and the environment.
Getting a licence in Italy
From January 1st, 2021, you’ll need an operating licence to fly a drone above 250 grams, so you’re most likely going to have to prepare for some paperwork but don’t worry, there is time. I too am rather disappointed about this because I hate any type of exam, however only the Mavic Mini qualifies with CE certification and under the weight limit to fly under the Open Classification. I may therefore be forced to get a licence, which (in Italy) costs € 31 and as luck will have it, I can try 6 times a week until I pass until January 1st. After the 1st they will be charging me € 31 per attempt, which could make it something to do before the end of the year. By the way, there is nothing to stop you from getting your licence in Italy if you live in another EU country, except for the fact you may need to have it translated.
A licence plate for your drone
The DFlight website offers registration for your drone, its very much like a licence plate and comes in the form of a QR code label which you should stick on your drone so the authorities can check the specs, your qualifications and some personal data.
Insurance isn't regulated by the EU directive, but it is recommended, in fact, in Italy as many other countries it has been compulsory for a while already. You will need to take out third-party liability insurance, no matter which drone you’re flying. In some countries I have been told, it could get costly (particularly for professional use). In Italy, you can get a yearly insurance from about € 30 a year and you should be able to purchase this as an EU citizen. So shop around bit, don't forget that in case of an accident, you are liable and you'll have to compensate damages.