The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recently released their official Opinion on the previous Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA). This is in relation to the Introduction of a regulatory framework for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems in the ‘open’ and ‘specific’ categories. The remit of EASA will be “extended to cover the regulation of all civil unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), regardless of their maximum take-off masses (MTOMs)”. As commercial drone operators in the UK will know, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has had regulatory control over small unmanned aircraft (SUA) up to 20kg currently. With EASA set to regulate all weight categories this is planned to change.
To prepare for their new role, EASA enlisted a UAS expert group to conduct their initial consultation. Back in July 2017, all interested parties (including Uplift) responded to the NPA with our comments and feedback, with around 3000 comments received by EASA. The industry has been eagerly awaiting EASA’s counter-response, which is now here in the form of the document known as Opinion No 01/2018.
What Does the Opinion Tell Us?
The Opinion has taken into account the 3000 received comments, and amendments have been made to the proposals put forward in the NPA.
WHAT WE KNOW
EASA’s proposed regulation aims to provide a safety framework for the operation of drones, whilst opening the industry to increased growth. Firstly, operators and aircraft over 250g will both need to be registered, plus manufacturers will have to follow strict guidelines to ensure aircraft meet safety standards.
It’s proposed there will be three operational categories, defined by the risk of the operation to be undertaken; ‘Open’ (low risk), ‘Specific’ (medium risk) and ‘Certified’ (high risk). Some PfCO commercial drone operator’s current procedures will fall into the ‘open’ category, which aims to make drone operation a simple process with fewer regulatory requirements than the Specific or Certified categories. However, what a lot of operators want is to be able to do the type of operations proposed in the Specific category such as BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight).
THE OPEN CATEGORY IN MORE DETAIL
If EASA basic regulation goes ahead in the UK, one of the big changes looks like the current 50m rule could become a thing of the past and flying over uninvolved people may also be possible in some cases.
One of the likely popular Open categories is the A2 subcategory for aircraft less than 4kg; popular aircraft that come under this umbrella include DJI’s Mavic Air, Mavic Pro, Phantom 4 series, Inspire 1& 2. Even larger commercial aircraft like the DJI Matrice 210 at 3.8kg could fall into this bracket, payload depending. This category allows operators to fly at a “safe” distance from uninvolved people. Permission would be gained from online training with an online test, plus an in-person theory test at a testing centre. Additionally, the minimum distance from uninvolved persons could be reduced to 5m, if a low-speed function is installed on the aircraft.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
The Specific category is intended to provide a legal and effective framework for operations such as BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of sight), that will be achieved by meeting the requirements of pre-determined risk assessments or “standard scenarios” as they are known. The snag is that the standard scenarios will not be completed until the end of 2018, so the detail is not included in the “Opinion” documents and the implementation of the Specific category – as intended with standard scenarios – is likely to be well into 2019.
This is frustrating as this is the area that the industry really wants. This category has the potential to open the doors for SUA operations using BVLOS. It could be compared to the current CAA “OSC or exemption” system, except these standard scenarios are like a “pre-packaged OSC” and hopefully the process will be more streamlined than the current OSC system.
The Certified category is not covered by the Opinion. ‘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, to ensure an appropriate level of safety (EASA Opinion No 01/2018). This is for unmanned aircraft performing the same tasks that manned aircraft currently do, such as air transport etc.
What are the Benefits and How will this Affect the Industry?
The new Open and Specific categories are designed to create opportunity for new operators to enter the industry, with this change in regulation being the first step towards industry growth.
With more people expected to be operating drones (and operating said drones closer to uninvolved persons), the new safety guidelines for manufacturers combined with compulsory operator and aircraft registration, training and assessment, means there will be a new level of accountability across the industry. Long-term, we hope this leads to improved safety measures and less risk of injury to uninvolved persons, in context to the expected rate of growth.
The new framework is due to be adopted by the Commission in Q4 of 2018, with the operational roll-out planned for Q1, 2019.
Should We Just Sit and Wait?
In our view this is a bit like saying “shall I wait for the next camera / sensor / drone to come out?” The point being that you could be waiting a long time for things to just “stand still” where drones are involved, as the nature of the industry at present is one of constant change.
WILL MY UK CAA PFCO STILL BE VALID?
We expect current permission holders to be subject to a transferable certification process to EASA. If you’re looking to enhance your business operations with internal drone solutions, we think it is still advantageous to acquire your PfCO prior to the changes for two reasons. Firstly, there are often delays with bringing in new regulation, so it’s by no means unheard of for regulation to be delayed. Secondly…
From speaking to experts right at the top level in the UK drone industry, there are still some mutterings that the UK could potentially end up breaking away from EASA in some form, due to Brexit. At Uplift, we think it’s a long shot as there are two current examples of non-EU countries following EASA rules. These are Switzerland and Norway. In fact, one of our Uplift instructors worked for a Swiss Airline (regulated by the Swiss Regulator, FOCA) whilst flying with a UK commercial pilots licence. This was for a UK airline with a Swiss subsidiary into many different EU countries and that worked just fine! So, we are not expecting Brexit to be too much of an issue for the aviation regulatory landscape in the UK or Europe.
Important details of how the regulations can be met called “acceptable means of compliance” are still yet to be released (Q1 2019 – a year from now!) so there is a lot of detail that needs filling in before we have the full picture on exactly how these new regulations will work.
At Uplift Drone Training, we believe the EASA regulations will accelerate us into the next high growth stage of the drone industry and enable more businesses to benefit more easily from the advantages that drones can bring. A similar regulatory framework called “Part 107” has been introduced in the USA and this has triggered a large uptake in the use of drones commercially in the USA.
Get ahead of the rule changes by gaining your CAA Permission for Commercial Operations. Contact our industry experts to discuss the best training solution for you!