Commercial use of drones in Europe would be divided into three categories starting with a minimally restrictive “open” category, according to a new regulatory approach the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) released this week. Plans call for presenting the European Commission with “concrete” regulatory proposals for the open category by December.
The proposed regulatory framework, or “concept of operations” that EASA released on March 12 envisions the open as well as “specific” and “certified” categories with ascending levels of requirements based on the associated risk and required competence of an operation. The framework “is not simply transposing the system put in place for manned aviation but creating one that is proportionate, progressive (and) risk based,” the agency states.
Upon acceptance, the framework would “render obsolete” the current regulatory regime in Europe, which assigns EASA responsibility for regulating drones having a maximum takeoff mass of 150 kilograms (330 pounds) or more, with civil aviation authorities in individual countries responsible for aircraft weighing less. EASA, based in Cologne, Germany, is the European Union’s aviation safety authority.
EASA’s release of the concept of operations followed a high-level conference in Riga, Latvia, on March 5-6 that produced consensus among EU member states on five principles for introducing drones in European airspace beginning in 2016. Among those principles, the conference delegates agreed that drones should be “treated as new types of aircraft with proportional rules based on risk,” and that EASA should produce a basic regulatory framework “without delay” to help the private sector make investment decisions and begin providing services.
“Rules should be simple and performance based, to allow a small start-up company or individuals to start low-risk, low-altitude operations under minimal rules…similar to the modern product safety regulations applied in other sectors,” states the Riga Declaration on Remotely Piloted Aircraft (drones). “Higher risk operations would be gradually subject to more stringent regulations or operational limitations.”
According to EASA, the “low energy,” or small drones allowed to operate in the open category would be restricted to flying within the operator’s visual line of sight, to no higher than 150 meters (492 feet) above ground or water, and outside of specified reserved areas, such as for airports. Flights above crowds would be prohibited, but flights above people not involved in the operation allowed. The operator would not need a pilot’s license or an authorization from an aviation authority; rather open-category operations “can be overseen through the police, as for cars for instance.”
The specific category would require the operator to perform a safety risk assessment of the planned mission, identifying mitigation measures that a national aviation authority would review and approve through an operations authorization (OA). “The OA should clearly specify the specific conditions and limitations for the intended operation and can be issued to authorize a single event or a series of operations under specified conditions,” EASA states. “The operation close to crowds could be acceptable when the vehicle has some additional functionality (e.g. automatic loss of link procedures, impact energy limiting devices).”
The certified category envisions drones that would fly with manned aircraft in unrestricted airspace. “These operations and the aircraft involved therein would be treated in the classic aviation manner,” the agency states. “Integration in non-restricted airspace would be subject to a safety assessment of the ATS (air traffic services) provider.”
Pilots engaged in the certified category would require licenses. The unmanned aircraft model would require a type certificate, and the drone being used an individual certificate of airworthiness and a noise certificate. The airworthiness certificate may or may not also cover the aircraft’s ground control station and “the possibility of an independent approval of a control station could be envisaged.”
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