This article sums up (in English) the rules for flying a drone in Switzerland, with a particular note about Zurich.
As laws and rules may change and may not be available in English I may not update this post fast enough. I don’t take any responsibility for anything written here.
You are the only responsible for your actions and you are the one who must check the (updated) rules, the laws and situation (always use common sense) before flying your drone. So go and check the official links and ask more questions to the authorities if you are unsure about something written here.
Checklist to check before taking off your drone
Inspired from paragliding, here a checklist to check before flying your drone.
- Is the wind* good enough for a safe flight? Check the wind before leaving home. If the wind is strong your little drone may tilt and crash.
- Is the drone in good conditions? If it just crashed before, you may have to reset/re-calibrate it before attempting another flight. I mean bring it home, fix it and do a little test, don’t just try to fly it after a crash.
- Risks analysis: what can go wrong? E.g. if you see trees nearby, or a big building the answer could be “1) possible crash in the trees if I fly too close to them 2) possible loss of signal if the drone goes behind the building”. If I see more then 20 people I change location or fly 100m away from them as precaution.
- Are all the transmitter switches in the proper initial positions? I think one of my first crashes happened because I took off the drone with in a different mode than the one I wanted. The wind did the rest…
Create your own checklist. Every pilot has his own checklist. If it’s easy to remember it’s even better, you just mentally check the most important points every time you wanna fly. Remember that a drone is not a toy: it can cause damages and even injure a person in case of an accident.
*About the wind: I personally had several crashes with my 1st drone (Cheerson CX-20) because of strong wind. Some people lost their drone in the trees because of strong wind. To sum up: do not fly with strong wind. “Strong” can be subjective, but common sense or your “guts” should tell you if it’s ok or not to fly. Strong wind and trees are a bad combination. If you wanna test how your drone flies with strong wind, at least try it in a place without trees and without obstacles, like a large field.
Rules in Switzerland
When I was still a newbie I met another drone passionate and in our discussion a point came out: everyone has a different answer about if it’s allowed or not to fly in Zurich.
To be sure, I sent a message to Stadtpolizei Zurich (Facebook Page) and they kindly sent me a PDF with the regulations:
Merkblatt: Einsatz von Luftfahrzeugen besonderer Kategorien (Mini-Drohnen oder Multicopter) in der Stadt Zürich (In English: Fact sheet: use of aircraft of special categories (Mini-drones or Multicopter) in Zurich). Source: Formulare & Brochüren – Stadt Zürich.
The PDF contains many links and resources. The most important one you wanna check is the BAZL (Bundesamt für Zivilluftfahrt BAZL). In English: Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA).
BAZL > Gut zu wissen > Drohnen und Flugmodelle (unluckily the English translation is incomplete so I’ll try to translate the most important points for you, as well with an explanation for dummies in Italic):
These rules apply for drones weighting less than 30 kg. For more than 30 kg you need a permission.
You don’t need a permission, but you must always have eye contact with your drone. This means: if you wanna fly it far away and use “FPV” telemetry to see, but you can’t see it with your eyes, you are not allowed to fly it.
For FPV glasses you need a permission, unless you (pilot) use them in the eye sight area and you have somebody (operator) checking the drone and being able to interrupt/control it as well in case of need. Pilot and operator must be in the same place. This means: unless you have 2 transmitters being able to control the same drone, you can’t use FPV, which to me seems quite impossible. Basically it means that FPV is not allowed. If you fly FPV on your own you are flying it illegally. Be careful.
Auto-pilot is allowed but only if you can in any moment (in case of need) take control of the drone. E.g. the Parrot Bebop drone has a Flight Plan feature. I used it several times, it’s awesome. In any moment I could interrupt it and take control of the drone. Test it first in some large field if unsure.
Taking videos/photos is allowed but you have to respect military rules and privacy rules.
Over groups of people, or within 100m from them it’s not allowed to fly a drone. In Zuich, “groups of people” means more than 24 people.
If your drone weight (including the battery, of course) is more than 500g, then you need a liability insurance to cover up to 1 million CHF in damages. Check with your house insurance or any other insurance you have, you may already be covered. If not, ask to upgrade it.
In proximity of an airport there is usually a no fly zone within 5 km from the runways. For an helipad, the radius is 2.5 km. This means: unless you call somebody at the airport and ask the permission to fly, you are not allowed to fly. (This rule applies also for paragliding pilots and it’s really possible to give a call to an helipad/small airports and get the authorization… so if you really wanna fly in a particular place in this radius, you may try to call and ask, if you are lucky you get your authorization! Maybe try to e-mail them so you get a written proof or ask the name of the person and note date/time for reference). The distance is measured from the runway, not from the middle of the airport. So if you wanna measure this, you can take the nearest runway point from your desired place to fly. Of course you can contact the airport tower (good luck finding the phone, but it’s possible: for paragliding this happens quite often) and ask them the permission to fly over or near the airport. If they say yes, you are good to do. Aerial shots over an airport are awesome. If you can take them legally it’s better for you. Be sure to have proof that you got the permission… maybe record the phone call and ask the name of the person who granted you the permission.
Cantons and towns/villages may have their own additional rules to override the rules above.
Public events for drones or RC models are not subject to these rules. This means if you participate to a drones event, the organizers already asked all the necessary permissions, you may check with them.
Please check this official map with restrictions for drones. It shows not only the restrictions like in Zurich, where it’s allowed to fly, but only till 150m, it shows this special restriction in many other places in Switzerland.
Rules in Zurich
Now, coming back to Zurich, the important part is the following (see PDF I linked above):
“Innerhalb der Kontrollzonen (CTR) der grösseren Flugplätze, aber ausserhalb der 5-km-Zone, gilt eine Höhenbeschränkung von 150 Metern über Grund. Grosse Teile der Stadt Zürich liegen in den Kontrollzonen der Flughäfen Kloten und Dübendorf.”
The CTR (control zone) in Zurich is huge. Check Segelflugkarte Schweiz.
As you can see in the map (screenshot above added just for your convenience + I added a circle with 5 km radius), the CTR goes down till Bahnhof Zürich Enge. You may think that only from there till Oberrieden you can fly, near the lake. But if you read well above, it’s written that out of the standard 5 km no fly zone you can fly your drone till 150m of altitude! Again if you put a camera you must respect various privacy rules. So e.g. you can’t fly a drone and spy your neighbor. But if you go near a public monument, or a tourist attraction, and film it with your drone, if you respect all the above rules you are ok.
In Google Maps you can right click a point and select “Measure Distance”, then you right click another point and select “Distance to here”.
You will see a segment showing the distance as in the following screenshots.
You can fly in Höngg, near ETH:
You can even fly in Irchelpark (but not over groups of people or within 100m from them):
To avoid trouble, try to avoid flying near people, especially kids. Kids are attracted by flying things. I’ve read in some RC forums that kids may even try to get your transmitter to try the drone! It’s also handy to have the BAZL rules and the Merkblatt in your pocket. In case a genius wants to teach you if you are allowed or not to fly there, you may show him the printed rules. If a cop stops you, you may wanna be polite… in case you did fly your drone where it was not allowed, you may get a warning or a fine, so try to respect the rules.
If you really do an epic fail and it goes public, we may read about your story in the newspapers and more people may begin to hate drone or drone pilots. So don’t mess things up, please!
That said, happy and safe flying.
P.S. If you believe I’m wrong in anything written here, you are welcome to leave a comment. Thank you.