20 July 2017, text: Linda Zampieri, photo: iStock
The regulations for operating flying objects such as drones and model airplanes varies with weight. Flying objects weighing more than 30 kilograms require a permit from the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) and must be registered with the Swiss Aircraft Register.
Flying objects weighing less than 30 kilograms – and that includes most drones – do not require a permit or registration with the Swiss Aircraft Register. However, they do have to follow certain regulations, particularly the DETEC Ordinance on Special Category Aircraft. It establishes, among other things, that pilots must maintain direct eye contact with the drone and avoid large groups of people in the open. In addition, drones cannot fly within five kilometres of any airport. A list of all the airfields in Switzerland is available here. Anyone who wishes to fly a drone over a gathering of more than twelve people will have to request a special permit from the FOCA.
But drone operators need to observe other regulations as well. “It’s also a good idea to review your insurance situation before operating a drone or model aircraft,” explains Roland Bösch, an expert for household contents and private liability insurance at Helvetia. Drones weighing less than 30 kilograms are included in the sum insured that is individually calculated for household contents insurance against fire, natural hazards, water damage and similar perils. “If you want even better coverage, you can also take out an all-risk policy. This supplemental insurance covers sudden, unforeseen damage to drones,” notes Bösch. Claim payouts are limited to CHF 5,000, however. Private liability insurance covers any bodily injury or property damage caused by the operation of a drone. However, this only applies to drones weighing up to 500 g. For drones and model aircraft weighing between 500 g and 30 kg you need appropriate supplementary cover in the form of private liability insurance.
If the drone weighs more than 500 grams, Article 20 of the DETEC Ordinance on Special Category Aircraft requires liability insurance with guaranteed cover of at least CHF 1 million. Drone operators must have their liability insurance certificate with them while operating the drone and be able to present it on demand.
Drones are no longer just for hobbyists, but are fast becoming workhorses for a variety of industrial and commercial uses. Commercial flights generally have to follow the same regulations as private ones. And companies can obviously insure their drones, too. “Helvetia’s corporate customers can include third-party losses – also known as liability losses, resulting from the operation of a drone – in their commercial general liability policies,” explains Marion Bischofberger, a product manager at Helvetia. “Further investigations are rarely required. However, if FOCA permits are needed to operate the aircraft, we will look more closely at what the drone is being used for.”
All these regulations are specific to Switzerland. Drones used in other countries are often subject to entirely different regulations. To protect yourself from an unpleasant surprise, it’s a good idea to find out whether permits and approvals are needed.