From March 2, unmanned aircraft operators will no longer be obliged to coordinate their flights with the Estonian Transport Administration (Transpordiamet). However, they will still have to comply with restrictions in certain areas, as outlined seen in the Estonian Air Navigation Services' (Lennuliiklusteeninduse AS) new map application.
"The obligation to coordinate (with the Transport Administration) will be abolished. The various risks involved were thoroughly analyzed when establishing the new (drone-flying) areas, and as a result, rules have been put in place to ensure that flights can be carried out safely," explained Mait Rõõmus, senior inspector at the Estonian Transport Administration's Flight Operations Department.
At present, a request for approval must be sent to the Transport Administration at least three working days before a planned flight. For remote drone pilots, the process is rather inconvenient, meaning many are also unlikely to complete it.
For drones weighing under 250 grams, there is currently no need to register.
However, flying will not become completely unrestricted for drone pilots as they will still be required to abide by restrictions in certain pre-established geographical areas. These can now be seen in the newly created Estonian Drone Map here.
"In some locations, for example, pilots are obliged to either obtain permission from the (local) air traffic control unit or to inform the flight information service unit at the (nearest) airport of their activities in advance," said Madis Prink, project manager in Estonian Air Navigation Services' Business Development Department.
To be able to fly drones, the operator of an unmanned aircraft must be registered in the Flight Safety Information System (LOIS). The must also comply with the rules for "Open" category flying and the restrictions outlined in the map application. These restrictions may, for example, relate to the horizontal or vertical boundaries of the area in which they wish to fly their drones, or an obligation to inform relevant air traffic services unit of their activities.
"When you start flying, you should always check the altitude restrictions, which are in force in the area, as well as the lateral extent of the area and all the other rules. Compliance is essential in order to maintain a level of flight safety ,which in turn ensures a safe environment for all of us," said Rõõmus.
According to Madis Prink, the geographic areas displayed in the map application make life easier for both drone pilots and the air traffic control unit. "Most flights no longer require any pre-flight coordination, and only special category unmanned flights need the approval of the Transport Administration. However, in certain circumstances, permission will need to be sought from the responsible air traffic control unit before operations can commence. This is the kind of information that users will see in the map application," he explained.
Due to security, safety and environmental protection reasons, it will still be necessary to apply for permission to fly drones in certain areas established by government order in the fall of 2022.
Flight restrictions apply to nature reserves and areas close to Estonia's national borders as designated by the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA). Restrictions are also in place in the areas above certain objects under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Justice for safety and security purposes.
The geographical areas in which restrictions apply are marked on the new map application for drone pilots, which can be found here.
The application not only shows the areas, but also includes contact details of the authorities responsible for issuing flight permits.
Before flying, drone operators and remote pilots are still legally obliged to check the NOTAM (Notice to Airman) information here and to stay up-to-date on the introduction of any new or temporary flight restrictions.
The new map application replaces the popular drone app (drone.app), which was previously used by drone pilots.
Editor: Michael Cole