Civil drones (Unmanned aircraft)

Unmanned aircraft (some people call them ‘drones’) is a sector of aviation that is developing very fast and has a great potential for producing new jobs and growth. Under the term ‘unmanned aircraft’ are included very large aircraft which resemble in size and complexity manned aircraft, but also very small consumer electronics aircraft. Especially the smaller ones are increasingly being used in the Europe Union (EU), but under a fragmented regulatory framework. Basic national safety rules apply, but the rules differ across the EU and a number of key safeguards are not addressed in a coherent way.

Latest development‘Prototype’ Commission Regulation on Unmanned Aircraft Operations and its Explanatory Note.

Following the publication of an Advance-NPA 2015-10 in July 2015, the Agency published a Technical Opinion (Opinion of a technical nature ) in December 2015. This includes 27 concrete proposals for a regulatory framework for all unmanned aircraft (UA) which is operation centric, proportionate, risk- and performance-based. It establishes three categories with different safety requirements, proportionate to the risk:

  • ‘Open’ category (low risk): No authorization is required to operate the unmanned aircraft, as long as forbidden or restricted drone zones, as defined by the national aviation authority (NAA), are respected. Safety is ensured through compliance with operational limitations, mass limitations as a proxy of energy, product safety requirements, and a minimum set of operational rules.
  • ‘Specific’ category (medium risk): Authorisation is required by a national aviation authority (NAA), following a risk assessment performed by the operator. Some standard scenarios will be published by EASA providing the evaluation of the risk of that specific operation and the list of the required mitigation measures. For certain lower risk scenarios, a simple declaration sent by the operator to the NAA, will be sufficient to start the operation.
  • ‘Certified’ category (higher risk): Requirements are comparable to those for manned aviation. Oversight by NAA (issue of licences and approval of maintenance, operations, training, ATM/ANS and aerodromes organisations) and by EASA (design and approval of foreign organisations) will be required according to a process similar to manned aviation.

The purpose of the Technical Opinion was to lay down the foundation for future work, illustrate the contents of the draft changes to the Basic Regulation and serve as guidance for Member States (MS) to develop or modify their regulations on unmanned aircraft.

As requested by the European Commission, Member States and other stakeholders, the Agency decided to produce a ‘Prototype’ regulation for the ‘open’ and ‘specific’ categories by the end of the summer 2016. This ‘Prototype’ regulation proposes actual rules providing the necessary clarity, notably on what are the responsibilities of the Member States and what is the flexibility offered to them. It has been called ‘Prototype’ to reflect the fact that they should help preparing the formal rulemaking process that will follow. The ‘Prototype’ regulation is supplemented by an Explanatory Note that provides the rational and background for the text. Indeed, the intention is to publish this ‘Prototype’ regulation and gather feedback which will be used to develop the necessary Notice of Proposed Amendments later this year.

Feedback from stakeholders is welcome using the dedicated mailbox UASPrototypeRule [at] easa [dot] europa [dot] eu. Considering the high interest of this topic, a large number of reactions is expected, and therefore EASA will not provide individual answers. However, all comments will be taken in due consideration during the development of the rulemaking task. Feedback will also be received through dedicated workshops.

Next steps

The rulemaking process of the related task RMT.0230 will follow, starting with the publication of its Terms of Reference (September 2016).

A Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) based on the ‘Prototype’ regulation, and taking into account reactions from stakeholders, will be prepared and published at the end of 2016. It will provide a draft Opinion for a Commission regulation on unmanned aircraft operations in the ‘open’ and ‘specific’ categories.

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