EASA's perspective on Drones

On Air, Issue 11 - EASA and the world of Drones

Yves Morier is the principal Advisor to the Certification Director for New technologies at EASA, he has a vast experinece in the rulemaking field and is momentarly contributing to the development of the RPAS rules and policies as well as the General Aviation roadmap.

Drones, RPAS, UAVs… what is the correct term? And what is it exactly consider as an “unmanned aircraft”?
I am afraid the correct regulatory term is Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). It has replaced UAV (Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles) and is the most general term. It indicates that the UAS is an aircraft and a system (the unmanned aircraft that flies; its command and control link and the control station). An unmanned aircraft is an aircraft without a pilot on board. Please note that this does not exclude to carry passengers. UAV includes RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) which are controlled by a pilot and also autonomous aircraft. Drone is a term used by the general public and is equivalent to UAS. Drone refer to the noise the first UAV where making when in flight.

When did it become a need to regulate this new type of aircraft?
UAS have been used mostly by the military until around 2010 when the multi-copter (4, 6, 8 electric engines) appeared and enjoyed a very fast deployment in the civil world. Member States had to regulate to allow safe, secure, environmentally friendly operations which at the same time would reflect the concerns of privacy and data protection. As the multi-copters have a mass far below 150kg, they are not today regulated at EU level. However, things are changing within the discussions on the new EASA Draft Basic Regulation, which will extend the EASA EU competence to all UAS except those used for State missions (e.g. Police, military, Coast Guards, etc.). It should be mention that a “0pt-in” provision has been included in the draft Basic Regulation that would allow a Member State to have such activities regulated at EU level.

Can you explain to us in simple terms what the main components of the rules are?
The prototype rules are implementing an operation centric concept. Indeed the consequences of an incident are highly dependent of the environment in which the operations are conducted (e.g. over a city or over high seas). In order to facilitate the development of the UAS industry, the rules must be performance and risk based. Performance based is necessary not to freeze technology development that are very quick in the UAS domain. Risk-based is necessary to avoid over-burdening the Industry.

The rules are addressing 3 categories of operations: open, specific and certified.

The open category does not requires pre-approvals for the UAS, its remote pilot or the operator. The risk is minimized by a combination of operational limitations (e.g. flight below 150m; maximum mass 25kg, operations conducted in Visual Line of Sight) , of technological features (e.g. Geo-fencing: a feature that makes the UAV remains where it should be; electronic-identification, registration) and of competence for the remote pilot.

The specific category requires an authorization from the National Aviation Authority based on a risk assessment of the operations being conducted. The specific category applies as soon as the operations are beyond the limits of the open category. As systematically performing risks assessment may be burdensome, a concept of standard scenarios applying to clearly identified operations (e.g. infrastructure inspections) is being developed: the standard scenarios is a pre-digested risk assessment which contains also the risk mitigating measures. So by following it, the operator can in some cases declares its activity or obtain in simple manner the Authority approval. Another option is for the operator to obtain an operator’s certificate that will give it privileges to start operations or change its operations without authorization from the authority.

Last but not least, the certified category would apply to complex operations with complex UAS and would be regulated in a comparable manner than manned aircraft (Type certificates; certificates of airworthiness, organizations approvals and licenses for the personnel). 

Why do you call your rules “prototype rules”?
They are called "prototype regulations" because we don’t have the legal power to issue them. The regulation present a worked out example on how to implement the operation centric concept. They are actually not regulations. Feedback has been requested from Stakeholders and the prototype regulation will evolve into a Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) for the open and specific categories to be published end of March 2017. Prototype means also that they will further developed and improved having undergone the test of the comments (Around 600).

What are the main risks you see associated to drones?
There are two main risks that need to be mitigated: hurting people on the ground and the collision with a manned aircraft. The first one is mitigated by fixing safe distance from people and by the use of an injury scale as one of the criteria to set-up sub-categories in the open category. The risk of collision is mitigated by geo-fencing and the creation by Member States of prohibited zones and limited access zones. The EASA has set up two task forces: one on geo-fencing and the other one on collision with manned aircraft. Reports of both task forces are available on our web-site. The report of the first one provides recommendations that will help further developing the concept of geo-fencing. The report of the second one will be used to develop a research programme to better understanding the mechanics of the impact In the future the development of Unmanned Aircraft Traffic Management systems will provide further improvements in this field too.

Are you also regulating the military drones?
As explained above, the EASA is not competent for “State operations”. However, many UAS have a dual role. Therefore EASA is developing a path in cooperation with the military to create synergies and avoid duplication. An example of such cooperation is our work with the European Defense Agency (EDA) with we , for example, exchange of information of risk assessment methods. The EASA intends to further increase the cooperation with our military colleagues.

When are your rules going to enter into force?
As mentioned already, the adoption by the Commission of our UAS rules depends first of the adoption by the European Parliament and Council of the changes to the Basic Regulation. This adoption should occur in 2017 and therefore our rules could be adopted in 2018.