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Discovering Drones: New European drone regulation – the jury is out

Posted: 31 October 2016 | | No comments yet

International Airport Review concludes a featured month on drones with an insight from Helios into new European regulation…

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The simplicity and low cost of drones means they are increasingly used recreationally and commercially. This has opened the possibility for new operations that increase the proximity between drones, manned aviation, people and property on the ground – and hence risk.

Helios give their insight into new European drone regulation…

It’s not surprising that aviation stakeholders have called for robust, globally harmonised regulation.

The latest steps to address this have been made by EASA, which published its ‘prototype’ of regulation on Unmanned Aircraft Operations on 22 August 2016, intended to come into force in 2019. This proposed regulation provides a common European framework covering both commercial and recreational drone operations.

The proposal introduces the requirements to enable an operation-centric drone concept across three categories: ‘open’, ‘specific’ and ‘certified’.

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Drone operations within the ‘open’ category will not require prior authorisation before flight as long as it complies with one of the four subcategories (A0, A1, A2 and A3) classified according to the type of drone, perceived safety risks, and pilot requirements. Each subcategory will also be defined by some specific requirements such as internal voltage limits, return home functions, altitude limitation systems, geo-fencing and electronic identification systems.

The ‘specific’ category will generally require prior authorisation and covers operations that are deemed to increase the operational risk and that fall outside of the ‘open’ classifications. Using dedicated safety assessments or comparison with standard scenarios published by EASA, they will be required to implement specific risk mitigation measures prior to commencing operation.

Lastly, the ‘certified’ category operations address those deemed to have the highest level of risk to be mitigated through a dedicated rule making process and will be consistent with the existing regulations applicable to manned aircraft.

Perhaps the headline change is the requirement for mandatory operator registration in:

  • ‘open’ category for drones weighing more than 0.25 kg (A1, A2, and A3 subcategories);
  • ‘specific’ category for all drones.
  • The operator registration number will need to be clearly displayed on these drones under these proposals.

All this change raises a number of questions:

  • What about the rest of the world? The registration of all drones weighing more than 0.25 kg is already mandatory in the United States and Russia. Russia appears to be the most stringent country as a flight plan and 2 crew members are required for all drone operations. On the other hand, the most relaxed regulations can currently be found in Canada, where it is possible to fly a drone weighing up to 35 kg recreationally without need for any license or registration.
  • Are the proposed European regulations too stringent? Manned aviation stakeholders might consider the regulations adequate or even not stringent enough, but recreational users will almost certainly consider the proposals a step too far. For their part, commercial drone operators, may welcome the new harmonised rules since the processes of registration and licensing should be unified all over Europe and in some countries this process could become simpler and better defined. However, as the authorisation of drone operations will be the responsibility of the member states, will the regulations and underlying processes really be unified? How and who will actually enforce the regulation? The police? If so, do they have the capacity, knowledge and equipment to do so?
  • What will happen to the current modellers and their drones? Will they be able to seamlessly continue with their (recreational) operations or will they be forced to equip their drones with additional systems such as geo-fencing and maximum attainable limitation systems? What will happen if those systems can’t be fitted?

There is much to commend in the proposed regulations, but there remain some details to iron out. It will be interesting to see how the different stakeholder groups respond in the months ahead – especially when considering the millions of drones already in circulation.

To have a look at entire feature including articles from Allianz and Clyde&Co click on the relevant links or have a look at our blog here.

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