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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Hunt MBE

Change in Drone Regulations Coming

As from 1 July 2020, national rules will be replaced by a common EU regulation. The purpose of this reform is to create a truly harmonised drone market within in Europe with the highest level of safety.

In practice, it means that once a drone pilot has received an authorisation from its state of registry, he/she will be allowed to freely circulate in the European Union.

More information about the new EU wide rules on drones is available on the website of the European Aviation Safety Agency.

The EU regulatory framework will cover all type of existing and future drone operations, fostering the development of innovative applications and the creation of a European market for unmanned aircraft services.

While aiming primarily at ensuring safe operations of drones, the European regulatory framework will also facilitate the enforcement of citizen's privacy rights and contribute to address security issues and environmental concerns in the benefit of the EU citizens.

It will in addition enable the deployment of an Unmanned Traffic Management System, the U-Space, to support the development of drone operations in low-level airspace, beyond visual line of sight and congested areas.

The European regulatory framework will be based on the following principles:

A risk-based and proportionate approach.

  • The new framework will introduce three categories of operations (open, specific and certified) according to the level of risks involved.

  • A different regulatory approach will be adopted for each category. Low-risk operations (“open” category) will not require any authorization, but will be subject to strict operational limitations.

  • For medium risk operations, operators will have to require an authorization from the national aviation authority on the basis of a standardized risk assessment or a specific scenario (specific category).

  • Finally, in case of high risk operations, classical aviation rules will apply (certified category).

A sharing of responsibilities between the EU and the Member States

To bring the necessary flexibility, Member States will be able to define "zones" to restrict the access of certain portions of their airspace or on the contrary relax the conditions there. By doing so, national specificities will be addressed at the most appropriate level. Registration and authorizations will also be implemented at national level on the basis on common rules.

The European Commission will adopt two regulations covering unmanned aircraft operations in the Open and Specific categories. The first regulation will define rules and procedures for the operation of unmanned aircraft. The second one will define the technical specification applicable to the drones authorized to be operated under the open category.

Open category

Operations in the open category do not require prior authorizations or pilot license. However, they are limited to operations: in visual line of sight (VLOS), below 120 m altitude and performed with a privately built drone or a drone compliant with the technical requirements defined in the regulation. To demonstrate this compliance drones that can be operated in the open category will bear a class identification label. Additional operational restrictions apply to each class of drone, in particular with regard to the distance that must be maintained between the drone and non-involved persons.

The following table provides a summary of the operations authorized in the open category for each class of drones as defined currently by EASA opinion 01/2018 (still subject to changes during the adoption process).

Specific Category

When the intended operation exceeds the restrictions of the “open” category, the operator should consider operating under the "specific" category (medium risk). Only high-risk operations require compliance to classical aviation rules under the "certified" category (like operating in controlled airspace). Operations involving drones of more than 25 kg and/or operated beyond visual line of sight will typically fall under the “specific” category.

Before starting an operation in the specific category, operators must either perform a risk assessment (using a standardised method – the SORA – that will be provided by EASA) and define mitigation measures or verify that they comply with a specific scenario defined by EASA (or the national aviation authority). On that basis they will be able to obtain an authorization from the national aviation authority (in some cases a simple declaration may be enough).

The authorization or the specific scenario will define the authorized operation and the applicable mitigation measures (drone technical requirements, pilot competence, etc.).

Certified Category

The “certified” category (high risk) includes operations involving large drones in controlled airspaces. Rules applicable to the “certified” category will be the same as for manned aviation: drones must be certified for their airworthiness, pilots shall be licensed, and safety oversight will be performed by the relevant National Aviation Authorities and EASA.

EASA is currently working on the necessary amendments of existing regulations in order to accommodate drones. Particular elements of the high-risk UA operations are:

  • the approval of design,

  • production and maintenance organisations;air operator certificates;

  • operations of UA and

  • licences of personnel.

See EASA RMT 0230

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