[Avionics Today 03-13-2015] Three different categories of regulations have been proposed for commercial operations of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), also known as drones, by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Under EASA's newly proposed "Concept of Operations for Drones," commercially or civil operated UAS would be established in three different categories: open, specific and certified.
Violeta Bulc, in the first row on the right, listening to Koen Meuleman, president of the Belgian Unmanned Aircraft Systems Association (BeUAS), on the right, in the presence of Margus Rahuoja, director at the Mobility and Transport of the EC, in the center, showing an unmanned aircraft during a presentation on civil UAS for the European Commission which was organized at the Goetsenhoven Military Airfield, in Belgium last week. Photo: European Commission.
The three different categories proposed by the EASA provide differentiation in terms of the level of complexity of the operation, purpose and most importantly the altitude, airspace and operator's Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) of the unmanned aircraft being operated. European safety officials structured the proposed rules in a manner that supports comments made by European Union commissioner for mobility and transport during last week's "Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems: Framing the Future of Aviation" conference in Riga, Latvia.
"They raise concerns if citizens feel that drones intrude in their private lives; if they illegally gather data; or if drones become flying nuisances," Bulc said. "On one hand, industry needs to know which direction the rules are going to make investment decisions. On the other, citizens need to know how we’ll uphold their safety, security and fundamental rights, for them to accept that drones will become more common in their daily lives."
According to the EASA's proposal, the open operation category would not require authorization by an aviation authority, but would be required to have the flight operation contained within defined boundaries, away from airports and people. EASA is reserving the open category for "very low risk operations," that VLOS at an altitude not exceeding 500 feet.
The specific operation category would require operations authorization by an individual state aviation authority with specific limitations assigned to the operation. Operators within this category would be required to perform a safety risk assessment that addresses airworthiness, operating procedures and environment, competence of involved personnel as well as airspace issues. Individuals operating in the specific category will be subject to a level of competence that is based on standards that the EASA is currently developing around remotely piloting UAS, which could eventually be an official EASA operating license.
Finally, under the certified category of operations, EASA is proposing a regulatory framework that is "quite comparable to what is done for piloted aircraft," the agency said in its "Concept of Operations for Drones" proposal. This is the most complex category of commercial UAS operations, where the operation would be regulated based on kinetic energy considerations and the level of autonomy including Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) operations. Effectively, EASA considers the aviation risks in the this category "akin to normal manned aviation."
EASA's "Concept of Operations for Drones" comes following the recently issued Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) from the FAA for commercially operated UAS weighing less than 55 pounds. The biggest difference in the two proposals is that EASA has established three different categories of operations based on complexity, and its third "certified" category applies to UAS that could be as large as air transport category aircraft. The FAA's NPRM applies only to smaller UAS weighing less than 55 pounds, and also would not allow BLOS operations.
Based on EASA's planning efforts discussed in the proposed regulations, suggestions for the official regulatory framework for the open category of operations will be presented to the European Commission in December. EASA is looking to perform more research on UAS sense-and-avoid technology, human factors, security, and the associated Air Traffic Management (ATM) impact of commercial UAS going forward.