Austria is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and beautiful places to fly a drone and take photos and videos of its breathtaking mountain landscape. The variety of scenery includes, of course, lots of mountains, rocks, and alpine landscape, but also the river and lakes regions with hundreds of medieval castles and palaces. Not to forget the cities like Vienna, Salzburg or Linz which are more challenging to fly a drone from a legal standpoint but nevertheless pose exciting opportunities if done right.
I personally love to be in the mountains a few hours before sunset and look for opportunities to catch the last rays of the sun with my quadcopter before they go down over the peaks and let the night roll in slowly over the peaceful scenery.
How to legally fly your drone in Austria
From a legal standpoint on drones, Austria is not that much of a paradise, though. Austria has one of the strictest drone laws in Europe, if not in the world. In principle, every drone that carries a camera has to be registered and approved by the civil aviation authority (AustroControl), and this is a costly process. To put a perspective, to get a permit for a Phantom-type DJI Drone you have to pay a fee of about EUR 350,- per year(!).
In addition to this essential requirement, which makes the occasional tourist visit and flying practically impossible, there are different categories you can be put in with your registration:
First, the Class where your UAV is considered:
- Class 1 (Visual line of sight – VLOS) – this is where you will find your recreational drone
- Class 2 (outside VLOS) – this is off limits to most drones as there are requirements like for commercial aircraft concerning equipment and pilot certification.
Within these classes, four airspace types are defined, and the aircraft owner has to select for which he would like to approve his aircraft:
- Operational Area I: Undeveloped area. No buildings or people in the area except the remote pilot and support staff.
- Operational Area II: Uninhabited area. Only secondary buildings (storage facilities, silos, or desolate uninhabited buildings) are in the area. Just a few people (e.g., hikers) frequent the area.
- Operational Area III: Inhabited area. Primary buildings such as residential or school buildings are in the area.
- Operational Area IV: Intensely inhabited area: This refers to areas like the center of cities and towns.
Depending on the operational area and the weight of the drone, aircraft are categorized into categories A, B, and C whereby drones under 5 kg operating in areas I and II fall into the category “A.” Only category A is easily accessible without further certification of the pilot and the aircraft. Anything beyond A, as well as the operational Areas III and IV, are inaccessible for Quadcopters and need advanced redundancy as well as a pilots license.
All drones under 250g takeoff weight flying under 30m above ground are exempt from all of these regulations and can operate freely.
Pilots must respect as well airspace rules in Austria to avoid collisions with aircraft. AustroControl has published a free interactive VFR Airspace map.
As a reference, the website of AustroControl as the legal regulator of drones in Austria summarizes these rules here: https://www.austrocontrol.at/jart/prj3/austro_control/main.jart?rel=en&content-id=1380112440527
The registration form for a drone is found here: https://www.austrocontrol.at/jart/prj3/austro_control/data/dokumente/FO_LFA_PPS_049_DE_2017-02-07_1102964.pdf
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