The Challenges for UK Drone Operators and NQEs with the Implementation of EASA Regulations
On the 28th of June the European Council adopted new aviation safety rules – The “basic regulation” as it is known will bring all UAS under 150kg under the EASA regulations, rather than member states or National Aviation Authorities. The detailed rules are expected to be implemented by EASA sometime in 2019.
The new ‘open’ and ‘specific’ categories provide different rules to those already in force in the Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO). A closer inspection of the available documentation shows the rules are a logical progression from the existing UK ANO regulation.
EASA brings a relaxing of the rules where appropriate (toys) and sensible regulation not far removed from existing CAA requirements in the A2 open category. In the specific category, to allow the possibility of more advanced operations, a new regulatory frame work is provided that shows some very similar elements to the existing PfCO system.
The Open category, which is VLOS, up to 400ft and 25 kg MTOW, will require the following in the A1 and A3 categories from a training perspective:
- Consumer Information
- Online Training
- Online Test
In the A2 Category (up to 4 kg and between 5 and 50m to people) there is an additional requirement:
- A theoretical test in a centre recognised by the aviation authority.
This test will result in a ‘Certificate of Remote Pilot Competency’. The draft “Acceptable Means of Compliance and Guidance Material” (AMCGM) gives some details for how the training and assessing system will work and outlines high level areas of knowledge and competency.
“An applicant for a certificate of remote pilot competency may either receive competency-based training at a declared training organisation (DTO) or train themselves.”
This brings with it compliance with standard scenarios (like a pre-pack risk assessment) or submission of an operational declaration should the operation be higher risk.
No additional training requirements are specified but appropriate pilot competency is mentioned several times throughout the draft AMCGM document. Clear knowledge of standard scenarios, risk assessments using a specially developed methodology (SORA), operational declarations, procedures and even operations manuals already sounds like the subject headings of a training course.
Conversion of Certification
Many UK PFCO holders could argue to be already fulfilling most requirements for operating in the open and specific categories. The obvious question arises: What system will be in place for UK operators to transition to the new EASA system?
Will it be as in manned aviation, when during the transition from NAA to EASA, form filling and a set fee resulted in conversion to EASA documentation. Or will Remote Pilot Competency assessments have to be taken again?
Transition likely to be required for Specific Category
The standard scenarios are yet to be published, and it is possible that the open category could come into force before the specific category is finalised. Many existing UK OSC / exemption holders are operating in what will become the Specific category. Will the current exemption system continue alongside new open category operations?
A New Regulatory Structure – New Competency Requirements
Businesses investing in staff and equipment may well decide to go down the “self-study” route for limited and or small operations, but many will not. Many will require thorough learning and or training solutions that will prevent expensive accidents and incidents occurring. This learning and training will also provide some sort of defence to the question of competency and ensuing liability, when incidents and accidents occur.
With Declared Training Organisations (DTO) mentioned in the AMCGM, who will provide the detailed syllabus? Each DTO or a unified industry standard?
The Scale of the Specific Category
When the standard scenarios are released, a new area of drone operations will be legally clarified and provide a quicker route to market than the current OSC / exemption system. This new area of operations with higher risks will generate its own training requirements – what syllabus will meet this need? – Hopefully, again, a widely accepted industry-wide solution that results in transferrable skills, and eases procurement processes.
It is likely that some from of training, standardised or not would be a supporting argument in any application for an LUC.
The level of knowledge involved the sector is deepening all the time, from types of operation to different types of aircraft, sensors and software. As a result, there are service providers and manufacturers operating at different levels of capability and quality.
How is that quantified at a business level? Customers, whether service users or contract providers, need to be sure of what they are getting beyond minimum regulatory compliance. Enter, industry standards; commonplace in engineering and aviation and other sectors. The first stages of standardisation can now be seen in the drone industry. With the likes of the British Standards Institute (BSI) and the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) starting to produce drone standards.
The recent publication of a draft for comment of “BS9122 Qualification and Approval of UAS Operatives” by the BSI, shows that the industry will not simply settle for “minimum acceptable standard” and is driving to provide professional standards that supplement regulation at an industry wide level.
There is much changing, but where there is change there is opportunity. The drone industry is growing; (we will spare the often-quoted figures from the likes of PwC) the trick will be for the industry to provide proportionate economic training that enables that growth to continue safely. Of course, all this change is assuming Brexit does not derail the EASA implementation in the UK, but that is an outside chance and one that will probably result in very similar regulation to EASA in the UK.