Civil drones (Unmanned aircraft)

Unmanned aircraft (most 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. The term ‘unmanned aircraft’ includes very large aircraft similar in size and complexity to 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: Notice of proposed Amendment (NPA) Unmanned aircraft system operations in the open and specific category and its Impact Assessment.

On request by the European Commission, Member States and other stakeholders, the Agency started to develop a proposals for an operation centric, proportionate, risk- and performance-based regulatory framework for all unmanned aircraft (UA) establishing three categories with different safety requirements, proportionate to the risk:

  • open’ (low risk) is a UA operation category that, considering the risks involved, does not require a prior authorisation by the competent authority before the operation takes place;
  • ‘specific’ (medium risk) is a UA operation category that, considering the risks involved, requires an authorisation by the competent authority before the operation takes place and takes into account the mitigation measures identified in an operational risk assessment, except for certain standard scenarios where a declaration by the operator is sufficient;
  • ‘certified’ (high risk) is a UA operation category that, considering the risks involved, requires the certification of the UAS, a licensed remote pilot and an operator approved by the competent authority, in order to ensure an appropriate level of safety.

Following the publication of an Advance-NPA 2015-10 in July 2015, a Technical Opinion in December 2015, a ‘Prototype’ regulation was drafted for the ‘open’ and ‘specific’ categories. In August 2016 the ‘Prototype’ regulation was published proposing actual rules providing the necessary clarity, notably on what are the responsibilities of the Member States and what is the flexibility offered to them.

A significant number of comments has been received and together with the significant inputs provided by an expert group have been taken into account to further develop the regulation text leading to the publication of an NPA. An impact assessment details analysis of several potential options considered. The analysis benefited also from feedback provided by stakeholders.

The NPA has taken into consideration the developments in the international arena e.g. work done in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO); in the Joint Authorities for the Rulemaking of Unmanned Systems (JARUS) and of course in the USA (Federal Aviation Administration- FAA).

The proposal provides a framework to safely operate drones while allowing this industry to remain agile, to innovate and continue to grow. The risk posed to people on the ground and to other aircraft as well as privacy, security and data protection issues created by such drones are also taken into account.

The proposed regulation defines the technical and operational requirements for the drones. Technical requirements refer for example to the remote identification of drones.  Operational requirements refer among others to geofencing, a system that ensures the drones does not enter a prohibited zone. The proposal also addresses the pilots’ qualifications. Furthermore, drone operators will have to register themselves, except when they operate drones lighter than 250g.

This proposal is breaking new grounds by combining Product legislation and Aviation legislation. Indeed, design requirements for small drones will be implemented by using the legislation relative to making products available on the market (the well-known CE marking). The standard CE mark will be accompanied by the identification of the class of the drone (from C0 to C4) and by a do’s and don’ts leaflet that will be found in all drone boxes. Based on the drone class an operator will know in which area he can operate and what competence is required.

The proposal allows a high degree of flexibility for EASA Member States; they will be able to define zones in their territory where either drones operations are prohibited or restricted (for example to protect sensitive areas), or where certain requirements are alleviated.

For operations that pose higher risks, an operational risk assessment will define the requirements that the operator needs to comply before flying the drone.

The proposal also provides special alleviations for people flying model aircraft - which are also drones – to recognise the good safety records in aero modelling identifying 3 options:

  1. Member States may issue a special authorisation to model clubs and associations defining deviations from the UAS regulation;
  2. Operations can be conducted in specific zones designated by Member States; or
  3. Operations can be conducted in the open category according the operational limitations defined for one of the Subcategory (A3)

EASA will submit a final Opinion to the European Commission at the end of 2017 which will take into account the feedback received to this proposal.


Next steps

The public consultation period for the NPA will finish on the 15 September 2017. According to its rulemaking process EASA will collect all comment and will develop a Comment Review Document (CRD) addressing all comments and updating the UAS regulation accordingly.

The Opinion is planned to be submitted to the EU commission by the end of 2017.

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