A drone is an unmanned aircraft that can be controlled manually by an operator on the ground or automatically using a prerecorded flight plan.
A remote drone pilot is still necessary during automatic operation to successfully guide the flight.
In terms of the wing, there are two types of drones:
- Rotary-wing UAVs, sometimes called VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) UAVs. These are helicopters that usually have four to eight motors.
- Fixed-wing UAVs, sometimes called CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) UAVs. These are planes.
Civilian drones use either electrical energy (batteries) or thermal energy (fuel) for propulsion.
Under applicable French regulations, there are two criteria for distinguishing drones:
- Weight: Regulatory developments indicate that any drone weighing more than 1 kg falls into the category of civilian drones for professional use. Likewise, any drone weighing less than 1 kg is considered a recreational drone.
- Use: A recreational drone is designed to be used for recreational purposes (no authorized professional activity) or can be used for sports competitions. Regardless, it can carry a camera, but only as a flight accessory. In other words, the purpose of flying the drone should not be to take pictures.
All civilian drones for professional use must be registered, and a Specific Activity Manual must be submitted to the French Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC).
Most VTOL civilian drones have a battery life of 10-20 minutes.
CTOL drones have a battery life of up to 1.5 hours.
This difference is explained by the fact that more power is needed to operate a VTOL drone because it has to "carry its weight". In contrast, a CTOL drone glides and therefore uses less energy.
Drones are equipped with a multitude of circuit boards and electronic components and can operate only when connected to a ground control station (or GCS), operated by a remote drone pilot.
In addition, a UAV is useless without an onboard payload, in the form of a data sensor.
There are various types of sensors, including electro-optical, infrared, and multispectral sensors.
Regardless of its weight, a drone is classified by international agreements and regulations as a dual-use good, meaning that it can potentially be used for military purposes. The same applies for the autopilot, the electronic flight monitoring system, which is considered a dual-use technology. Drones can therefore function as weapons.
As such, buying an imported drone involves a significant level of liability and insurance risk in the event of an incident, if the manufacturer has not met all customs regulations in effect at the time of export.
It should be noted that China has not signed any multilateral agreements on dual-use goods and technology. This means that Chinese manufacturers do not comply with applicable export regulations.
These days, anyone can buy a drone… but at their own risk!
It is absolutely wrong to think you can decide on the spur of the moment one morning to fly a drone, even in an unpopulated area and in good weather!!
Drones fly below the airspace area (< 150 m), but there are still lots of remaining constraints:
- Controlled airspace around airports, airfields, and heliports: takeoff and landing areas in which aircraft must travel below 150 m.
- NOTAM zones (temporary) reserved for military planes
- No-fly zones (nuclear plants, prisons, etc.)
- Populated areas, including urban areas and other places where people or animals gather
In short, each constraint involves administrative procedures for obtaining written authorizations from various administrations and authorities. Considering the time required to investigate applications and the number of people involved, a drone flight requires a few weeks of advance preparation.