Drone operator and drone pilot: differences and obligations

Dimitri Wolf Von Dimitri Wolf 3 Min. Lesen

The terms drone operator and drone pilot do not mean the same thing. In this article, we explain what the difference is and what obligations drone operators and drone pilots have.

Anyone who deals with the topic of drones and the associated laws and obligations will repeatedly come across the terms drone operator and drone pilot. It is often wrongly assumed that they are synonyms and always mean the same thing. But this is not the case.

A drone pilot does not necessarily have to be a drone operator and vice versa. However, it can be the case and in most cases it is.

Definition: drone operator and drone pilot

What is a drone operator? A drone operator is a person or organisation that owns (buys or rents) one or more drones. It is comparable to the owner of a car.

What is a drone pilot? A drone pilot, also known as a remote pilot, is the person who flies the drone. This does not necessarily have to be the owner, i.e. the drone operator. In our comparison, this would be the driver of the vehicle.

In practice, the drone operator is often also the drone pilot. This is the case if you buy a drone yourself and then fly it yourself.

However, you can also be a drone operator without being a drone pilot. If you only let someone else fly your own drone. Conversely, you can also be “only” a drone pilot without also being a drone operator if you fly someone else’s drone.

Differences between drone operator and drone pilot

The following table provides an overview of the differences between the two terms and explains the required obligations.

Drone operatorDrone pilot
Insurance coverAs a drone operator, you must ensure that your drone is adequately insured.Before flying, drone pilots must check whether the drone operator has insurance cover.
RegistrationOnly the drone operator must register as such with the national aviation authority.Drone pilots should check in advance whether the operator is registered as such.
e-IDAfter registration, the drone operator is obliged to affix its UAS operator number (the so-called e-ID) to the drone and, if necessary, make it available via remote ID.Drone pilots must check whether the operator’s e-ID is attached to the drone and, if applicable, entered in the remote ID.
Drone operator licencesThe drone operator is not required to obtain a drone pilot licence.Drone pilots must have the appropriate drone pilot licences depending on the application and drone.
Differences and obligations between drone operators and drone pilots

Insurance cover as a drone operator

The insurance cover mentioned above is essential as it is required by law and is therefore mandatory. Appropriate drone liability insurance does not have to be expensive. However, you should make sure that the small print is also correct. This means that drones with the appropriate weight are also insured, the sum insured is suitable and, if applicable, commercial flights are also covered. Our article on drone liability insurance with corresponding recommendations and further information provides a good introduction.

Registering as a drone operator

Registration as a drone operator is carried out with the national aviation authority. In Germany, the LBA is responsible, in Austria it is Austro Control. In our linked article, we have summarised all the information that is important for you. In a nutshell:

  • Registration with personal data at the national aviation authority
  • Data will be checked
  • Confirmation of registration as a drone operator
  • Receipt of the e-ID
  • Attachment of the e-ID to the drone
  • Entry of the e-ID in the remote ID function of the drone (if necessary)

Drone operator licences for drone pilots

Whether you need a drone pilot licence as a drone pilot depends on the drone used and the category in which it is to be flown. The linked article on this topic tells you when you need which drone licence and where you can get it. There are two different drone licences to choose from:

  • EU proof of competence
  • EU remote pilot certificate

Summary of the licence

Drone operator and drone pilot are two different things that entail different obligations. A person can be both or just one of them. However, it is important to familiarise yourself with the terms and understand which duties are associated with which role. As a rule, one person will fulfil both roles.

Dimitri is the founder of DeinDrohnenpilot.de and has been working at skyzr since 2021. He has been fascinated by the topic of drones since 2016. When he is not flying a drone, he is responsible for planning and developing new concepts for the platform as well as writing and creating content. He is also responsible for the technical implementation and maintenance. His training as an IT specialist for system integration and his bachelor's degree in media informatics help him with this.
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