Those who unpacked a new drone on Christmas Day still cannot fly their device freely without breaking the law but, after nearly two years of delays, a legal framework for both hobbyists and professionals is finally in sight.

There are no laws on drone use in Malta, meaning that anyone flying them – including entry-level models popular with hobbyists – needs to apply for a permit for each and every flight anywhere on the island.

However, the Times of Malta is informed that a law regulating drone use, which has been on the cards since 2015, is now in the final stages of preparation and is expected to be presented to Parliament by April.

Read: Draft regulations on use of drones worrying operators, hobbyists

Transport Malta sources said that, under the forthcoming law, most drone users would likely be required to register their devices upon purchase but would not have to apply for permits except under specific circumstances.

Users would receive an information package detailing the relevant rules upon registration and would then be subject to a “self-declaration regime,” they added.

Devices would be registered

Higher-risk operations (such as close to large crowds of people or sensitive locations) may require a more rigorous procedure while professional operators may also have to undergo a more complex certification process.

The long-awaited legislation was first put forward in a draft legal notice two years ago but was shelved while the authorities awaited new regulations by the European Aviation Safety Agency.

It is in line with an agreement reached by the European Council a few days ago on the first EU-wide drone rules, which the European Commission said would allow remotely-piloted aircraft of all sizes to fly safely and bring legal certainty to the rapidly expanding industry.

According to Brussels, the rules will provide the basic principles to ensure safety, security, privacy and the protection of personal data. There will also be rules on the noise and emissions generated by drones, as is the case for any other aircraft.

Higher-risk drone operations will require certification, while drones presenting the lowest risk will simply need to conform with normal European Union market surveillance mechanisms.

Operators must be registered if they operate drones that can transfer more than 80 Joules of kinetic energy upon impact with a person, which generally applies to most consumer-level models.

The agreement, reached on December 22, must still be formally approved first by the European Parliament and then by the European Council, a procedure which is expected to be completed this spring. As the law stands in Malta, permits – which usually take around seven working days to be approved – are required from the Civil Aviation Directorate for any drone larger than 250 grams.

The directorate does not allow drone operations over members of the public, vehicles or vessels, property, towns or villages, important buildings such as hospitals or power stations, or close to the runway and airport approaches.

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