Drone regulations in Zurich

Yes, it is allowed to fly a drone in Zurich. Here the rules.

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Sometimes people have different opinions if it's allowed or not to fly a drone in general, or over the city of Zurich.

This article sums up and translates (in English) the official rules from the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) for flying a drone in Switzerland, with a particular emphasis on Zurich (rules from the police of the city of 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 the context (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.

All you need to know

Rules in Switzerland

Every DJI drone comes with this flyier in the box, so in theory every drone operator should know it by heart. Here how it looks like:

Your main reference is (in German) is the page Bundesamt für Zivilluftfahrt BAZL - Regeln und allgemeine Fragen zu Drohnen (under "Dokumente" you find also the PDF of the flyer).

The homepage is available English: Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) - Drones and aircraft models, unluckily the drones section on the English FOCA website is incomplete (what the foca! ) so I'll sum up the most important points for you. But check also the google translated link above.

  • You must always have line of sight (LOS) with your drone.
  • You need a permission for FPV glasses, unless you (pilot) use them in the LOS 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.
  • Auto-pilot/autonomous flights are allowed (e.g. missions planned with the Litchi App), but only if you can in any moment take control of the drone.
  • Taking videos/photos is allowed. The same privacy rules apply as for other cameras.
  • You can fly over groups not exceeding 23 people*. From 24 and more people: flying over them is forbidden, but at a distance of 100m away it's allowed, or you can ask a permission to FOCA.
  • If your drone weight (including the battery) is more than 500g, you need a liability insurance to cover up to 1 million CHF in damages.
  • It's forbidden to fly within 5km from airport or helipd runways, unless you got a permission from the air traffic control/aerodrome operator. Check the Swiss map with drone restrictions
  • Cantons and towns/municipalities may restrict even more the rules listed above. So make sure to check the local laws as well.
  • Most natural reserves are protected and it's forbidden to fly a drone, because the noise can disturb animals. If you see a sign "Naturschutz" please avoid flying a drone there. Websites of such places also indicate if flying drones is forbidden.

You can have a look at this YouTube video for dummies, explaining (almost but not everything) I just listed above. Watch it and you may learn a bit of German:
Regeln für den Gebrauch von Drohnen.

What is it meant with "groups of people"? See in Bewilligungen für den Betrieb von Drohnen: "mehrere Dutzend, dicht beieinander stehende Personen" which translated means "several dozen people standing close to each other", which, in numbers means 2 * 12 = 24, please note also the wording "close to each other". So if it's an event, a concert, a restaurant with more than 24 people almost touching each other you can't fly over them, but you can fly from a distance of 100m (horizontal distance) from them. If you are in the mountains and in the nature and there are more than 24 people: in my interpretation of the rules you can still fly between them if they are not all close to each other. But I suggest you to avoid doing so: in general some people knowing these rules may complain and even call the police on you, if that happens how can you prove that these groups of people were not all close to each other? If you film them you may have a chance, but I'd not risk if I were you... this could be actually controversial, so be careful. My personal suggestion: even if you see a few people, try to fly as far as possible from them to avoid any trouble. If somebody comes to you and complains about his privacy, or believes you were spying on him or his family, be polite, explain what you were filming, maybe show him on the screen the subject of your video. If the person still persists it may be a drone hater or a person that is freaking out, in that case try to resolve he problem as quick as possible: explain that you didn't intend to fly that long and that you are about to land in a few minutes anyway. Land as fast as possible... I know it's your right to be there etc. but better avoid any trouble, after all you never know if that person would punch you. People can be crazy, your life is more important than your pride...

If it's not specified officially by a municipality/canton, ski resorts etc. may tell you that it's forbidden to fly over their facility (they may be right if they speak about cablecar facility, or a restaurant, I mean privately owned buildings), but legally their claim has no value over a public space, e.g. if mountain is publically accessible by pedestrians, hikers etc. the official federal laws apply. I read in drone groups people asking to ski resorts if it's allowed to fly there, and of course the answer they got was "no" because of the "groups of people" excuse, but if there are less than 24 people remember that you can stil fly? I even sent an e-mail at FOCA and the guy didn't deny or confirm what I asked but simply told me "Swiss drone rules are quite permissive and easy to understand", so why asking if you can get "no" as answer. Read the official rules, it's as simple as that.

Last but not least: if you fly over some private property and the owner complains, you have to stop. If you filmed it and the guy said you can't, you may have to delete the video or never be allowed to use it (unless you censor the private property). You can still hover your drones a few meters away from the private property and the owner can't say anything about it if you film something else. It's your right to have a drone over public space.

Rules in Zurich

Most of the city of Zurich is inside the CTR (control zone) of the international ZRH airport. You are not allowed to fly closer than 5km from the airport runways, unless you get a permission from the tower. Outside of these 5km the regulations allow us to fly a drone till a maximum altitude of 150m.

Check the Switzerland map layered with drone restrictions to see exactly where is the boarder of those 5km from the runways, here a preview:

Preview of the Switzerland map showing no-fly zones and restrictions

Rules for mini drones weighing less than 500g

If you checked the links and read the official rules and laws linked above, you may have noticed that in several places it's mentioned "between 0.5 and 30kg".

See the legal basis at DETEC Ordinance on Special Category Aircraft » Section 7 » Art. 171: Restrictions on model aircraft » paragraph 2

I even asked FOCA and the guy answered me "you are right, for drones, toy drones etc. the restrictions apply only between 0.5 and 30kg. So in theory it's not explicitely forbidden, but not recommended to fly too close to an airport or over groups of people."

I would generally stay away from groups of people, as people tend to piss off easily. For the airport: as the guy from FOCA said, I'd suggest to be extra careful. If you have a really cool spot where you wanna fly, within 5km from an airport (but I recommend at least 2km away), try to stay at a low altitude (e.g. at the same altitude of buildings and natural obstacles, like trees...), and try to avoid publishing the video (if filming) to avoid a shitstorm. Or at least specify in the video that you used a drone weighing less than 500g. If the police comes to check you'll have to prove it.

It takes only one accident for the rules to become more restrictive and to create super restrictive laws like in Canada and recently also in Germany... so fly safe and avoid any risk.

Best shop for mini drones*

The best mini drone you can find right now on the market is the DJI Spark. It's weight, including battery: only 300g!

Checklist: before taking off your drone

Inspired from paragliding, here a list of points 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.

Contacts and useful links