Drones - regulatory framework background

On request by the European Commission, Member States and other stakeholders, EASA developed a proposals for an operation centric, proportionate, risk- and performance-based regulatory framework for all unmanned aircraft (UA). A general concept, establishing three categories of UAS operations (‘open’, ‘specific’ and ‘certified’) with different safety requirements, proportionate to the risk, was proposed with the publication of Advance Notice of Proposed Amendment (A-NPA 2015-10) in July 2015 and  a Technical Opinion in December 2015. 

The three main categories of UAS operations are: 

  • the 'open’ category is a category of UAS operation that, considering the risks involved, does not require a prior authorisation by the competent authority nor a declaration by the UAS operator before the operation takes place;
  • the ‘specific’ category is a category of UAS operation that, considering the risks involved, requires an authorisation by the competent authority before the operation takes place, taking into account the mitigation measures identified in an operational risk assessment, except for certain standard scenarios where a declaration by the operator is sufficient or when the operator holds a light UAS operator certificate (LUC) with the appropriate privileges;
  • the ‘certified’ category is a category of UA operation 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.

Based on the market’s needs, priority has been given to the development of a regulation for operations in ‘open’ and ‘specific’ category. The regulation framework for operations in ‘certified’ category is currently under development.

Regulation for operations in ‘open’ and ‘specific’ category
Following the publication of a ‘Prototype’ regulation  for the ‘open’ and ‘specific’ categories in August 2016, EASA drafted and published on 4 May 2017, NPA 2017-05 with the significant input provided by an expert group,. It was complemented by a detailed impact assessment.

During the four months consultation period, more than 3 700 comments from around 215 commenters were received and carefully evaluated.  Opinion 01/2018 was published on 6th February 2018, proposing a new European regulation for UAS operations in ‘open’ and ‘specific’ category.

The proposed regulation 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 main aspects of the proposed regulation are:

  • It 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.
  • It 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 geo-awareness, a system that inform the remote pilot when a drone is entering 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 and without a camera.
  • It breaks 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 consumer information 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.
  • It 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 posing 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 (also considered to be drones) to recognise the good safety records in aero modelling by identifying three options:

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