The obligations of drone-related supply chain actors in Europe

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It is essential that supply chain operators have a number of important tasks to fulfil before products are placed on the market, otherwise the market surveillance authority will have to intervene. In this article, we provide an overview of these tasks.

There are many actors in the supply chain for the sale of drones, all of whom perform different activities. They are collectively referred to as economic operators and their activities and the conditions for the marketing of drones in the EU are regulated by Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945.

The supply chain is basically made up of three economic operators, through whom the drone is ultimately delivered to the end user, who purchases the product for his own use, for the performance of a specific activity.

The economic operators are:

The manufacturer: who manufactures the product or has the product designed, possibly produced, and markets it under his own name or trademark. Importer: a natural or legal person in the EU who places a product from a third country on the EU market (for example, an operator importing a product from an Asian manufacturer into an EU country). Distributor: the actor in the supply chain who commercialises (sells) a product and makes it available to users, whether for consideration or free of charge. The first time a product is made available on the EU market is called placing on the market.

The aim of the delegated regulation is to ensure that only drones that meet the conditions laid down in the legislation and that are used in accordance with the relevant rules, guarantee maximum safety and are used in a way that does not endanger people and the natural and man-made environment.

The obligations of the various actors are set out in detail below. Given the wide-ranging nature of the subject, only those that are relevant to users are mentioned. However, this will take into account the fact that there are currently no drones on the EU market that have a class identifier, but that the CE marking is already a requirement, given that drones are equipped with subsystems (e.g. remote control, radio equipment, battery) that require it for their marketing. The main novelty of the new EU legislation is therefore that the CE marking will apply to the drone as an unmanned aerial vehicle system rather than to the subsystems, but the necessary standards are not yet in place.

Obligations of manufacturers

The manufacturer of a UAS must ensure in all cases:

The design and manufacture of the equipment complies with all relevant standards and requirements under EU law. All UAS are designed and manufactured in compliance with all applicable and all relevant standards and regulations, including those of the UAS and all applicable legal and regulatory requirements and other relevant documents, which draw the end-user’s attention to safe use.

They carry out or have carried out a conformity assessment for each product, which entitles them to affix the CE marking. Without this marking, the product cannot be placed on the EU market. They must have a register to support the recording, investigation and action taken on all complaints received in relation to products, which may include product recall, and a system to ensure continuous liaison with distributors to enable follow-up action to be taken. All drones must have a unique serial number and be marked with a type designation.

The manufacturer must include contact details on the product or its packaging where end users can reach them. If the manufacturer becomes aware of a problem with a product which affects its safe use, he shall act immediately to withdraw the product from the market or recall it, if appropriate. Importer obligations This is the actor who ensures that only devices that comply with all relevant requirements, whether legal or other regulatory, are placed on the market within the EU.

Before being placed on the market:

checks that the technical documentation, instructions for use and other information are available, that the product bears the CE marking, that the manufacturer’s contact details are indicated, and
the importer, like the manufacturer, puts his contact details on the product or its packaging.

If any of these points are not met, or if the importer has reason to believe that the product does not comply with a requirement, he may not place the product on the market until compliance is ensured.

If the use of the product poses a risk in any respect, he shall inform the manufacturer and the competent national authorities and carry out or have carried out the necessary tests and take immediate action (corrective action, suspension of trade, recall of the product, etc.).

Distributor obligations

Distributors are the actors who come into contact with end-users and whose main activity is therefore ultimately linked to sales. Although the distributor receives the goods to be sold via the importer, they must also control some items.

Before distributing the product:

They check that technical documentation, instructions for use and other information are available, that the product bears the CE marking (a product that does not bear the CE marking cannot be sold on the EU market, or more precisely, can only be operated as a self-built drone, which precludes resale),
the contact details of the manufacturer and importer are indicated.
If any of these points are not met, or if the distributor has reason to believe that the product does not comply with any of the requirements, he may not place it on the market until compliance is ensured. Where the use of the product presents a risk in any respect, he shall inform the manufacturer or the importer and the competent national authorities to that effect. If a safety problem is indicated which affects the use of the product, a decision will be taken to make the product available on the market, thus ensuring that dangerous products are no longer available on the market. As no drone with a class identifier is commercially available today, it is the responsibility of the distributor to provide information on the potential use of the drone, based on the following.

In the absence of a class identifier, the maximum take-off mass (MTOM) of the drone is the basis for assigning the device to the appropriate operational category:

  • for MTOM below 500 grams, an operational subcategory A1 (can fly close to people), or
  • subcategory A3 for MTOM below 25 kilograms (at least 150 metres from any industrial or populated area),
  • or, if the customer wishes to exceed the first two restrictions, he must obtain an operating licence from the aviation authority.
  • Information about these restrictions must be displayed on the product’s website prior to the purchase, in the case of online purchases, and in an easily accessible and legible manner for purchasers in the case of in-store purchases. The market surveillance authority (the aviation authority, including the Unmanned Aircraft Division) may check compliance with the information requirements.

If a drone with a class identifier is already available, the distributor must place the information in Hungarian issued by EASA in the box of the device and provide the end-user with the same information before purchase.

Prior to this, the affixing of any class identification label on the drone constitutes misleading consumers and may lead to the imposition of a market surveillance fine.

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