On October 28, 2020, the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI) published for public comment a set of draft regulations for operating small unmanned aircraft systems. Like its U.S. counterpart, this set of regulations generally applies to drones with a takeoff weight of under 25kg. The draft regulations were first released to a closed list of stakeholders on January 24, 2019, and are a product of discussions with those stakeholders. In its statement on the current draft, CAAI stated that while certain parts of the draft are still under discussion with various government departments as well as the Israeli Air Force, the draft is mature enough for seeking public comment.
After weighing the pros and cons of various regulatory frameworks around the world, CAAI is generally proposing a regulatory framework similar to the FAA’s tried and tested Part 107. Below are highlights of key elements of the proposed regulations.
Redefining ‘drones’: as the use of drones has become more widespread and more varied, Israeli regulators have had to review their definition of a ‘drone’ for the purpose of aviation regulations. In trying to strike a balance between public safety and a reasonable regulatory burden, the current draft excludes two kinds of unmanned aircraft from the definition of ‘drone’:
- Unmanned aircraft operated indoors;
- Unmanned aircraft with a takeoff weight of 250 grams or less.
The new regulations encompass not only drones but all major elements of unmanned aerial systems, attempting to create wide definitions to account for novel elements of traditional systems.
Operator Licensing Requirements: The proposed Israeli regulations are due to alleviate the burden of obtaining a general license for commercial operation. However, requirements pertaining to commercial operators will extend beyond flight competence at the individual level. Among other things, this will also partially account for automatic flight. The new regulations offer a narrower version of the exception provided under Part 107 for unlicensed operators under the direct supervision of a licensed operators. Moreover, no possibility exists for registration of foreign operators.
Equipment Requirements: Among other things, the drone registration requirements under the proposed regulations reflect recent international developments in drone I.D requirements, aimed at creating a simple process for achieving accountability.
Flight Requirements: The regulations provide a clear, pre-defined framework for operation from the ground, in daylight, within visual line-of-sight (VLOS), within speed limits, and within a safe distance from people not connected to the flight. Operations outside of the basic framework will require licensing akin to Part 107 ‘waivers’. There are also specific requirements for agricultural operations, including spraying operations, but with more discretion than currently given to operators. The proposed regulatory framework will actually provide more possibilities than currently offered under Part 107 for night flights, in line with the current Israeli approach on this matter. On the other hand, one of the main proposals now open for public comment is a flight restriction to 60 meters above ground. Permission may be granted on a case-by-case basis for flights above 60 meters, up to 100 meters, but this will still place a more severe flight restriction on Israeli operators than limitations placed on counterparts abroad.
The current framework will require many commercial operators to seek waivers from CAAI. De facto, this reintroduces a licensing requirement for commercial operations, though more streamlined and tailored to the needs of small drone commercial operators. However, the new regulations will require the CAAI to publish its ‘waivers’ online, like the FAA, which will give the local industry much needed transparency for quickly and successfully navigating the new regulations.
The proposed regulations are likely to play a significant role not only in the business of operators, but also of small drone manufacturers, whose designs may be affected by the regulations. It is therefore worthwhile for all stakeholders involved or seeking to get involved in the commercial drone industry to carefully review the draft regulations. The call for public comment is an opportunity to shape the regulatory landscape. It is also important to consider the draft regulations in the larger scheme of things: while many local stakeholders look to larger markets abroad, Israel is now one step closer to being a valuable proving ground for the international drone industry.
CAAI’s call for public comment can be found here: https://www.gov.il/he/departments/general/fourth-public-distribution-uav