112 Switzerland

Red square with a bold, equilateral white cross in the center that does not extend to the edges of the flag. Various medieval legends purport to describe the origin of the flag. A white cross used as identification for troops of the Swiss Confederation is first attested at the Battle of Laupen (1339).

Flag courtesy of the CIA World Factbook

Map courtesy of the CIA World Factbook

Google Earth

The Matterhorn towers over the roofs of Zermatt; at 4,478 m (14,688 ft), is one of the highest peaks in the Alps.

Photo courtesy of the CIA World Factbook

Switzerland is a member of ICAO, EUROCONTROL, JARUS, and EASA.
Last updated on April 18, 2024


According to Britannica, Switzerland’s constitution (modeled after that of the United States) was adopted in 1848 and substantially revised in 1874. A thoroughly revised constitution, approved by three-fifths of voters, entered into force in 2000, though the changes were mainly formal, with little alteration to the structure of Switzerland’s government. Because the old constitution had become unmethodical and difficult to understand, the new constitution coherently incorporated the multitude of amendments passed in the previous 125 years. Switzerland’s constitution contains some 200 articles, which establish the rights and duties of the citizens and of the governing bodies. It also created what has been termed a consociational democracy, which attempts to maintain political balance and stability, given the country’s linguistic and religious diversity.

The federal government supervises external and internal security, transportation affairs, forestry, and water conservation. It also is responsible for foreign policy and customs, the monetary system, the military, and social insurance programs. It has the authority to take steps to adjust the course of the economy and provide for uniform administration of justice in the areas of criminal and civil law.

Legislative power resides in the bicameral Federal Assembly, comprising the National Council, with 200 deputies elected by a system of proportional representation for four-year terms, and the Council of States, in which each canton is represented by two deputies and each demi-canton by one deputy (46 deputies in total). The executive branch is headed by the Federal Council, a seven-member collegial board. The presidency of the Federal Council rotates among the members annually, and each councillor presides over a federal department. The governments of other countries often have 20 or more ministers, and because of the Federal Council’s increasing workload (domestic responsibilities coupled with Switzerland’s burgeoning international commitments), there has been considerable debate about enlarging the Council or adding another level of ministers between the Federal Council and the Federal Assembly. However, Swiss voters, who would have to approve this restructuring, are fairly cautious about making such constitutional changes, especially those that might upset the very subtle balance between the different language groups.

One of the unique aspects of Switzerland’s constitution is the number of decisions it requires citizens to make through referenda and initiatives. Sovereign power ultimately rests with the people, who vote on proposed legislation several times a year at the national level and often more frequently in the cantons; indeed, Switzerland has held more than half of the world’s national referenda. For example, in 1971 the constitution was amended by national referendum to grant women the right to vote in federal elections and to hold federal office, in 1991 the voting age in federal elections was reduced from 20 to 18 years, and in 2002 voters endorsed entry into the United Nations (UN). Referenda must be held on constitutional matters and major international treaties; voters may also call a referendum to challenge a law passed by the Federal Assembly by obtaining 50,000 signatures within 100 days of passage. For a referendum to pass, it must receive an overall majority both of the national vote and in a majority of the cantons.

In addition to referenda, Swiss citizens can call a national vote on any issue by collecting 100,000 signatures. The first such initiative was undertaken in 1893, when voters decided against the wishes of the parliament and endorsed the prohibition of the killing of animals according to Jewish religious methods. More recently, voters have cast ballots on whether to join the European Economic Area (rejected), eliminate the Swiss army (rejected), reduce military spending (rejected), conserve moorland (approved), restrict immigration from the EU (approved), and adopt a universal basic income (rejected). The Swiss model has provided citizens with a direct voice in their own affairs that is without parallel in any other country, but it has sometimes been criticized on various grounds: voter turnout is often very low, averaging about two-fifths of the electorate; it often makes the passage of important legislation difficult (e.g., the parliament passed a law granting women the right to vote in 1959, but voters did not approve the change at the federal level until 12 years later); and it raises the prospect that the rights of minority groups can be undermined by a majority of the population, though Swiss voters in practice have generally respected the rights of minorities.

The Swiss Confederation is divided into 26 cantons (including six demicantons, or Halbkantone, which function as full cantons), each of which has its own constitution and assembly. The cantons exercise broad authority, possessing all powers not specifically given to the federal government. Education and health policies are largely determined at the cantonal level. While historically several cantons had a Landsgemeinde, only Appenzell Inner Rhoden and Glarus maintain this traditional assembly consisting of all the canton’s citizens that meets annually and serves as the canton’s primary decision-making body.

The Swiss Confederation consists of some 3,000 communes, which are responsible for public utilities and roads and, like the cantons, are largely autonomous. Communes range in size from Bagnes in Valais, with an area of 109 square miles (282 square km), to Ponte Tresa in Ticino, with an area of 0.1 square mile (0.3 square km). They also vary considerably in population; many have only several hundred residents, while the commune of Zürich has more than 350,000 residents. From the multiplicity of small communal republics stem a special quality to each and, paradoxically, a basis of national unity, for each citizen treasures and supports the freedom of the commune, a shared conviction that unites a citizen with the rest of the population in a way that transcends differences of language and of party. It is the communes rather than the country that grant Swiss citizenship.

The Swiss Civil Code of 1912 has furnished a model for the administration of justice in many countries; indeed, parts of the code have been adopted verbatim in other legal systems. The difficult task of creating and preserving a uniform judicial system within so diverse a national structure has produced a number of great jurists and experts of international law. Each canton elects and maintains its own magistracy for ordinary civil and criminal trials. Supreme judicial power is vested in the Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgericht), the seat of which is in Lausanne. Members of the court are elected by the Federal Assembly to six-year terms. Capital punishment was abolished, except under circumstances of martial law, general mobilization, or war—by the unified federal penal code of 1937.

Civil / National Aviation Authority (CAA/NAA)

As an independent regulator, the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) is responsible for ensuring the highest safety and security standards in Swiss civil aviation. It takes measures to promote civil aviation and strives for its sustainable development. Through its activities, the FOCA contributes to Switzerland’s locational appeal. The FOCA participates in international aviation organizations so as to ensure that Switzerland’s national interests receive due consideration.


SkyVectorGoogle MapsADS-B Exchange

ICAO countries publish an Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP). This document is divided into three parts: General (GEN), En Route (ENR) and Aerodromes (AD). ENR 1.4 details the types of airspace classes they chose to adopt from classes A through G. Switzerland AIP (Fee required)

Drone Regulations

Drone Laws

From 1 January 2023, drone pilots have been subject to new regulations. The Joint Committee of the Bilateral Air Transport Agreement between Switzerland and the EU approved Switzerland’s adoption of the EU drone regulation. For the Swiss drone industry, having a harmonized legal framework with Europe will be an advantage.


For operation in the open category:

  • Mandatory registration via UAS.gate
  • Training with examination as specified in the sub-category (A1, A2, A3).
  • Minimum age for drone pilots of 12
  • Minimum distance from uninvolved persons as specified in the sub-category.
  • Maximum flight altitude of 120m above ground level
  • Drones must bear a CE marking and a class identification label. The transitional provisions apply to drones without a class identification label.
For operation in the specific category:

  • New permit procedures are available (EU-STS, PDRA, LUC)
  • The FOCA may outsource some official duties. The entities involved in the authorization procedure will be properly qualified and training will be carried out by recognized entities.
  • The transitional provisions apply to certain areas:
For operation in the certified category: The certified category mainly concerns the transport of passengers by drone (air taxis). These provisions are still being drawn up. It may be several years before they enter into force.


Around the globe, and in Switzerland in particular, this has led to the development of a fertile drone ecosystem which draws on the knowledge of both renowned Swiss universities and promising start-ups. These technologies are expected to spawn numerous new business areas and permanently transforming existing ones. Drone operations are also likely to become increasingly complex and will, for example, be increasingly conducted beyond visual line of sight flights and flights in urban areas.
This in turn will open up new applications such as smart mobility solutions in cities.

Such developments force us to address the issue of safe and efficient integration of drones into the airspace and in particular to find ways to protect privacy and the environment. U-space is considered to be the main means of achieving this.

The term U-space, refers to a collection of digitalized and automated functions and processes aimed at providing safe, efficient and fair access to airspace for the growing number of civilian drone operations. U-space provides a framework to facilitate the implementation of all types of operation in all classes of airspace and all types of environment, while ensuring an orderly coexistence with manned aviation and air traffic control. U-space airspace is a framework that facilitates the implementation of any type of operation in any class of airspace and any environment, while ensuring orderly coexistence with manned aviation and air traffic control. Switzerland does not yet have an operational U-space airspace. The FOCA is currently working to establish such airspaces, especially in areas where large numbers of simultaneously operated drones.

In a U-space, there are no limitations placed on the various U-space service providers: An open, free and fair market is perceived as the best possible solution for U-space service providers and drone operators. In its U-space concept (ConOps), the FOCA has described all of the services that may be provided within the U-space architecture. Some of these services have already been introduced, others are about to be launched and still others have not yet been fully developed.

The U-space Regulation declares the following U-space services in U-space airspace as mandatory:

The U-space Regulation declares that the following U-space services as optional but possibly useful as a means of reducing potential drone flight risk:

Advanced Air Mobility (AAM)

UAMAS – Urban Air Mobility Association Switzerland

2022 – “Switzerland is the world’s most advanced UTM State” – new country-ranking guide from Unmanned Airspace

2022 – Switzerland to adopt EU regulations relating to drones from January 2023

2023 – Lilium signs agreement with Air-Dynamic to serve Switzerland, Italy

2023 – Volocopter integrates Swiss-AS MRO software into its operations ecosystem


Short Essay Questions

Question 1

You have been hired by a Drone Startup Company. Your boss has immediately assigned this job to you.

They need you to prepare a one-page memo detailing the legalities of using a drone to film the Matterhorn towers in the Alps, pictured above.

They need you to mention any national laws and local ordinances.

They specifically want to know what airspace you will be operating in and whether or not you need an airspace authorization.

Does it matter whether or not you are a citizen of the country?

Lastly, there is a bonus for you if, as you scroll through this chapter, you find any typos or broken links!

Question 2

Do you need a certificate to fly UAS?

If so, how do you obtain one?

Are there fees associated with this?

If so, how much?

Question 3

May you operate beyond visual line of sight?

If so, what procedures must you follow?

Question 4

Does the country have UAM/AAM laws? If so, describe, citing the exact law.

Question 5

Are you aware of any new laws or policies not mentioned above? If so, describe, citing the exact law or policy.





Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Drones Across the World Copyright © 2023 by Sarah Nilsson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book