Taking Photos with Your Drone in Switzerland
Up until a few years ago, aerial photography was very expensive and was mainly for professional photographers. However, this has changed due to the increase in drones. Nowadays, even amateur photographers can capture stunning aerial shots without breaking the bank. In recent years technology has rapidly developed and thanks to an extended range and video goggles, drones can still be controlled even when there is no longer any visual contact. Nowadays you can take pictures of locations that are difficult to access and would otherwise be inaccessible through conventional photography. You can directly transmit images to the internet via a live stream.
However, laws and regulations restrict the use of drones. If you would like to use your drone for filming and photography, you need to be aware of the following laws and regulations.
Legal Outline of Operating Drones in Switzerland
Unabhängig davon, ob eine Drohne mit einer Kamera ausgestattet ist, unterliegt der Gebrauch gesetzlichen Vorschriften, die es in jedem Fall zu befolgen gilt. Seit dem Januar 2023 gilt nun auch in der Schweiz die offizielle EU-Drohnenverordnung bzw. die EU-Drohnenregulierung. Wir haben das Wichtigste zusammengefasst:
Mandatory Registration for Drones
Anyone who would like to fly a drone must register online with the LBA (Luftfahrt Bundesamt) and receive a registration number (e-ID). This also applies to hobby drones. The electronic ID must be visibly attached to the drone. Depending on the type of drone this number must also be added to the drone software. Drones that weigh less than 250 g and do not have a camera or sensors for recording personal data do not have to be registered.
In addition, all owners of drones weighing more than 250 g must take an online test. This ensures that they have the necessary basic knowledge. Previous training or qualifications in Switzerland will not be taken into account. However, certificates from EU countries are valid in Switzerland. Similarly, a certificate acquired in Switzerland is valid in the EU.
Categories and Classes for Drones
The legal regulations require that drones are sorted into categories depending on their use. There is a total of three for which there are different requirements. For most hobby pilots, the "Open" category is relevant, as drones with a low risk fall into this category. In addition, there is also the "Special" category and the "Certified" category.
Below we will take a closer look at the "Open" category:
- You can fly your drone up to 120 metres above the ground.
- The drone must be operated in direct visual contact.
- A minimum age of 16 years applies.
- Drone liability insurance is required by law for all drones.
- The mandatory registration must be observed.
- People’s privacy must be respected.
- You cannot film people without their permission.
In addition to the main category, there are also the subclasses according to which the operational capabilities of a drone can be determined. This mainly concerns the drone manufacturers, as they have to certify their devices and label them accordingly.
- C0: up to 250 grams -> operating class A1
- C1: 251 to 899 grams -> operating class A1
- C2: 900 to 3999 grams -> operating class A2
- C3 and C4: 4-25 kilograms -> operating class A3
Generally, the different operating classes differ in how close you are allowed to fly to people. This primarily refers to people who have not been informed about the flight and have not given their consent. In the "Open" category, flying over crowds is generally not allowed, regardless of the subclass. The regulation is stated as ‘’ Assemblies of people have been defined by an objective criterion related to the possibility for an individual to move around in order to limit the consequences of an out-of-control drone.’’
The "Special" category is intended for drone use, for example, that exceed a flight altitude of 120 metres or fly beyond visual range and for this you would have to get individual permission, which can be applied for via PDRA (Pre-Defined-Risk-Analysis). There are also a number of standard scenarios (STS) in this category that do not require an exemption but do require a drone licence.
The category "Certified" is intended for special drone use in industry or transport. These require special qualifications and licences and are subject to certain requirements.
Drones Without a Classification
If your drone has no classification, for example, because it is an older model you can still fly it, but you must follow the rules from the transition category. These have become more restrictive over time:
Applies until December 2023:
- Drones up to 500 g can be flown in operating class A1.
- Drones up to 2 kg can be flown in operating class A2.
- Drones up to 25 kg can be flown in operating class A3.
Applies until January 2024:
- Drones up to 250 g can be flown in operating class A1.
- Drones up to 25 kg can be flown in operating class A2.
Where Can You Fly Your Drone?
Since there are areas in Switzerland where flying drones is prohibited or only possible to a limited extent, you must check in advance in detail before flying your drone. As mentioned above, flying over crowds of people is generally prohibited.
According to the DABS (Daily Airspace Bulletin Switzerland), flying is not permitted within a restricted zone or where there are temporary flight restrictions. You can find out daily which areas are affected by any flight restrictions here. There are also national and cantonal area restrictions. You can find out exactly which areas are affected here on this map. These include a 5 km radius around civil or military airfields, certain nature reserves, nuclear powerplants, military bases, and certain energy and gas supplies.
Laws and Regulations on Taking Pictures and Videos
In addition to the laws and regulations on flying a drone, you must also beware of the Data Protection Act, especially if you would like to take pictures or record videos with your drone. This law is intended to protect the personal and fundamental rights of individuals. In general, you cannot take a photograph or film someone without their consent, provided they are clearly recognisable in the photo or video. The following general data protection principles apply:
Justification of Use
Aerial photographs may only be taken by means of a drone if there is a justification for doing so. According to Art. 13 FADP (Federal Data Protection Act), this is the case if the people who are being recorded have given their consent or if there is a private or public interest. It is difficult to determine when a private interest exists. However, a video made for personal use does not constitute sufficient justification. To be on the safe side, you should always make sure to get permission from anyone who is going to be recorded.
Principle of Transparency
If a drone is used for video recording, for example for surveying or video surveillance, potentially anyone who may be in the video must be informed about the video recording. This can be done by means of a sign or a visible camera. In some cases, it is important to inform people directly about the drone use.
Principle of Proportionality
If photographs or video recordings are made with the aid of a drone, then the interference with the privacy of the people being filmed must be in reasonable proportion for the intended use. Similarly, the footage may only be used for the original purpose, for example, if you have permission to film a wedding celebration then you may only film this celebration. You cannot film or take pictures of other people without their consent.
You should make sure that your privacy rights are respected when using a drone to take photos and videos. It’s important to remember that people may not be filmed or photographed without their consent.
References and further information: