This article describes the current view of the European Aviation Safety Agency on the future legislation related to the operation of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) in the EU airspace.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) developed and published a prototype regulation concerning the licensing and operation requirements for unmanned aircraft (UA) in August 2016. The term "Unmanned aircraft" and the abbreviation UA are used in this document as opposed to e.g. "UAS" or "Drone" in the relevant Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) documents. This regulation shows the vision of the EU regarding the UAS legislation. The approach taken focuses on the risks associated with UAS operations to divide them into categories rather than quantifiable metrics (e.g. weight or size). The prototype regulation lays down:
- rules for regulating an operation-centric concept for the operation of unmanned aircraft (UA), and more specifically in the "open" and "specific" categories (see descriptions below), within the single European sky airspace.
- technical requirements and administrative procedures for the design, production and maintenance of UASs in the "open" and "specific" categories within the European Union, as applicable;
- technical requirements and administrative procedures for the implementation of the concepts of registration, electronic identification, and geofencing;
- requirements for subcategories in the "open" category;
- conditions to issue a declaration or to obtain an authorisation, as appropriate, in the "specific" category;
- requirements for the introduction of a concept of standard scenarios in the "specific" category;
- conditions to obtain an optional light UA operator certificate (LUC), with associated privileges;
- conditions for the making available on the market of UASs intended to be used for operations in the "open" category, as well as requirements for market surveillance relating to the marketing of those UASs in the Union.
Following the publication of the Prototype regulation for the "open" and "specific"' categories in August 2016, EASA drafted and published on 4 May 2017, NPA 2017-05.
In 2019 and 2020, three regulations were adopted:
In 2021, three regulations were adopted defining the U-space concept:
Categories of UA Operations
UA operations are classified in three risk-based categories:
- "open" is a category of UA operation that, considering the risks involved, does not require a prior authorisation by the competent authority before the operation takes place;
- "specific" is a category of UA operation that, considering the risks involved, requires an authorisation by the competent authority before the operation takes place and takes into account the mitigation measures identified in an operational risk assessment, except for certain standard scenarios where a declaration by the operator is sufficient;
- "certified" is a category of UA operation that, considering the risks involved, requires the certification of the UA, a licensed remote pilot and an operator approved by the competent authority, in order to ensure an appropriate level of safety.
Only the "open" and "specific" operations are covered by the prototype regulation. The "open" category is further divided into three subcategories, based on technical requirements, operational limitations and requirements for the remote pilot or operator. The subcategories are:
- subcategory A1: operation of UA complying with requirements ensuring that they pose a negligible risk of severe injury to people on the ground or damage to manned aircraft, and requiring neither specific remote pilot competence nor strict operational limitations;
- subcategory A2: operation of UA complying with requirements ensuring that they pose a limited risk of severe injury to people on the ground or damage to manned aircraft, operated by registered operators, and equipped with geofencing and electronic identification;
- subcategory A3: operation of UA complying with requirements imposing technical mitigations like geofencing and electronic identification, posing a higher risk of severe injuries to people on the ground or damage to manned aircraft and operated by registered operators with higher competence.
In addition UAS classes are defined within the subcategories. These are represented as class identification labels on the aircraft. The class specifies the MTOM of the UAS as well as operational restrictions (e.g. minimum distance from uninvolved people), operator registration requirement, remote pilot competence (ranging from reading the UAS manual to obtaining a certificate for competency) and minimum age.
- Subcategory A1 includes:
- Class C0 (under 250 g)
- Class C1 (under 900 g)
- Subcategory A2 includes class Class C2 (under 4 kg)
- Subcategory A3 includes:
- Class C3 (under 25 kg)
- Class C4 (under 25 kg)
UAS marked as class C0, C1 and C2 may also be flown in Subcategory A3.
For operations in the "open" category, risks are to be mitigated through a combination of safety measures, e.g. requirements and limitations on the operation, the UAS, and the personnel and organisations involved as well as other limitations to be defined by the competent authority for geofencing purposes or for particular airspace areas. For operations in the "specific" category, risks are to be mitigated through safety measures identified in an operational risk assessment or contained in a standard scenario published by EASA.
Principles for UA Operations
- The operator of a UA shall be responsible for its safe operation.
- The operator shall comply with the requirements laid down in the applicable regulations, in particular those related to security, privacy, data protection, liability, insurance and environmental protection.
- The operator of a UA shall register with the competent authority and display registration marks on all the UA it operates in order for them to be easily identifiable, when required.
- The operator shall ensure that UA are equipped with an electronic identification means, when required.
- The operator shall ensure that UA are equipped with a geofencing function, when required.
- The competent authorities may designate zones or airspace areas where UA operations are prohibited or restricted.