Drones & Air Mobility - Noise & Sustainability

How is the environment protected? 

To protect the environment from the impact of drones and various air mobility technologies, several strategies are employed. These include government regulations, no-fly zones, geofencing, noise mitigation, altitude restrictions, environmental impact assessments, remote identification, wildlife monitoring, sustainable technologies, public education, research, and collaboration among stakeholders. The goal is to balance the benefits of these technologies with the need to minimise their environmental impact. 

One of EASA roles is to regulate the noise and sustainability of drones and air taxis, which are new and emerging technologies that offer new possibilities for urban mobility and transport.

EASA's role in noise and sustainability for drones and air taxis is to establish a harmonised set of regulations and standards at EU level for this new mobility by air of people and cargo, and to ensure that the noise and environmental impacts of these technologies are minimised and acceptable for the public. EASA also conducts research and surveys on the social acceptance of UAM in Europe, and collaborates with other international organisations and stakeholders to promote global harmonisation and best practices.

How noisy will it be? 

The noise generated by drones and urban air mobility vehicles such as eVTOLs can vary based on factors such as aircraft type, propulsion system, altitude, and flight patterns. Electric aircraft tend to be quieter than those with combustion engines. Noise reduction technologies are being developed to mitigate noise impact, and regulations and urban planning will play a role in controlling noise. Public acceptance of these technologies may be influenced by their noise levels, and ongoing developments aim to strike a balance between mobility benefits and noise reduction.

EASA has published key standards to measure drone and eVTOL noise, notably:

  • The Environmental Protection Technical Specifications (EPTS) for the assessment and limitation of air taxi noise, which are the world's first proposal on this topic. The EPTS define harmonised noise assessment criteria and procedures, as well as maximum allowable noise levels, for electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft powered by multiple, vertical, non-tilting, evenly distributed rotors. The aim is to reach a high, uniform level of environmental protection and to prevent significant harmful effects of noise on human health in the EU.
  • The guidelines on noise level measurements for drones, which are the first guidelines on this topic. The guidelines provide harmonised procedures to measure the noise of drones used in the low and medium-risk operations of the 'specific' category, which are operations that require an authorisation by the national aviation authority or a declaration by the operator. The guidelines contribute to a high, uniform level of environmental protection and prevent significant harmful effects of noise on human health in the EU, as mandated by the EASA Basic Regulation.

Will it really be sustainable? 

The sustainability of drones and air mobility, including UAM, AAM, and IAS, depends on factors like energy source, emissions, noise pollution, infrastructure, safety, efficiency, public acceptance, technological advancements, and environmental impact assessment. Sustainable implementation, with a focus on clean energy, reduced emissions, and efficient infrastructure, can make these technologies more environmentally friendly, but careful planning and ongoing assessment are essential to ensure they align with sustainability goals and do not harm the environment or communities. 

To ensure that all these factors are taken into account, a full life-cycle environmental assessment is needed. EASA is developing a methodology to do this in a standardised manner which will ensure that there is no greenwashing.

EASA is also responsible for the related harmonised standard to measure the sustainability of Drones and Air Taxis, the Environmental Footprint. This comprehensive standard will provide a 360-degree assessment of the environmental impact of drones and eVTOLs on climate, water, soils as well as resource constraints.

The environmental assessment will follow the format of a Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) Category Rule (PEFCR). The PEF methodology is the European Commission’s recommended methodology for assessing the environmental impacts of a product across its life cycle. This means it assesses the impacts of products while they are in use, the ‘upstream’ impacts associated with manufacturing and raw material extraction, and the ‘downstream’ impacts associated with their disposal at end-of-life.

The PEF method has been selected due to is comprehensive set of environmental indicators avoiding, issues of burden shifting and carbon tunnel vision, but also due to its adoption by the European Commission and being referenced within important European policy such as the sustainable batteries regulations.

Currently PEFCRs exist for a number of product groups including batteries, paint and photovoltaic electricity generation. Each PEFCR defines the rules for how to assess the impacts of the given products, following the general PEF methodology’s overarching guidance, whilst also being explicit in certain aspects relevant to the product group under study, to ensure a more consistent approach.

By establishing a standardised PEFCR for eVTOL and drones, EASA hopes to enable eVTOL and drone manufacturers and operators to quantify and communicate information regarding their aircraft’s environmental impact on a fair and consistent basis. This will enable consumers to make informed decisions regarding the environmental impacts of their choices and avoid claims of greenwashing that can arise from different approaches to environmental assessments.

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