Malta grants its first European Drone Operator License

With its rugged coastline framed with indented harbors and bays, as well as sandy beaches and rocky coves, Malta is among the best places to be a drone photographer. But the tiny country in the central Mediterranean is set to become a promising outpost for commercial drone operations.

Transport Malta, which is the authority for transport in Malta, issued its first ever EASA Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC) — and it’s also the six such certificate to be issued in Europe. Such a certificate allows the holder to self-authorize flight operations of certain drone flights — including many types of beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations — and is considered the highest authorization achievable under European drone regulations.

Birkirkara, Malta

The certificate was issued to SwissDrones, which is a manufacturer of long-range unmanned helicopter systems, and was issued in accordance with European Regulation (EU) 947/2019. With it, SwissDrones will be able to self-authorize flight operations of its SDO50 V2 unmanned helicopters across European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) countries.

EASA is an airspace agency responsible for aircraft type certification, design approvals and preparing regulations, which are then adopted by the European Commission. If adopted, those regulations go into effect amongst 27 European Union States, as well as a handful of other associated States.

It is credited with making Europe the first region in the world to have a comprehensive set of drone operation rules. Among those: establishing three categories of drone operations in the European Union. Those are ‘open’, ‘specific’ and ‘certified,’ where open category flights are low-risk (requiring no authorization before flight), while flights in the certified category are high-risk. High-risk flights, like BVLOS flights require three things: certification of the drone operator, certification of the aircraft, and licensing of the remote pilot(s), which is why this comes into play.

Flying drones in what’s called the ‘specific’ category is mandatory for flights outside the limit of the open category, such as larger drones or those flying above 400 feet, and requires authorization issued by the Member States.

What is SwissDrones?

Zurich-based SwissDrones, which is known for its unique twin-rotor unmanned helicopter systems, builds primarily targets surveillance, inspection and search & rescue missions beyond visual line of sight. Its goal is to place manned helicopters, which could save costs, lower carbon emissions and reduce crew risk of operating in challenging conditions. The drones can operate in both day and night with a flight endurance of multiple hours.

Triton fountain at the entrance of Malta’s Valletta old town.

SwissDrones said it plans to use its new powers to conduct BVLOS test flights in Malta, which is an archipelago between Sicily and the North African coast that covers just 122 square miles. That’s roughly the same size as the single cities of Dublin, Ireland or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Despite its small size, SwissDrones says Malta is an ideal geographical environment given its ample airspace for long-range testing in real-life conditions, including in coastal areas and over the ocean.

The company added that Malta is a growing hub for unmanned aviation with a dedicated support infrastructure and a clear governmental commitment to advance such a high-growth industry.


  • Yves Morier says:

    Thank you mentioning EASA and European regulations.
    It is a good article.
    I would like respectfully to bring some clarifications:
    EASA is the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. It prepares regulations that are adopted by the European Commission after consultation of the European Parliament and/or the Council of Member States. These regulations are valid for the 27 European Union States and 4 associated States (Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland ). In addition this role , EASA is responsible for aircraft type certification and associated design approvals. It is also responsible for non-EU organisations approval. All other certificates and approvals are issued by the Member States
    You mentioned correctly the 3 categories but described only the open and the certified ones. The specific category is mandatory when you operate outside the limitations of the open category ( drones<55lbs, VLOS, Fly below 400ft to list the main ones). It requires an authorization issued by the Member States based on a risk assessment conducted by the Operator. The methodology for the risk assessment is called SORA.
    The LUC is issued in the context of the specific category. It is an Organisation approval that includes privileges up to the operator self authorizing its operations. The LUC is valid in the 31 countries. There is a small but logical caveat: when the risk mitigation relies on geography or weather in a particular country, the LUC holder will have to check if they exist in other countries and if necessary modify its mitigation measures. The verification is strictly limited to such points.
    I hope this helps.
    All the very best,

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