Sunday, 22 March 2015

RPAS regulation takes off in the EU – The Riga Declaration and the EASA Concept of Operations for Drones

Regulation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), commonly known as “drones”, received a boost in the EU after the issuance of the Riga Declaration, which laid down policy aims on RPAS regulation. A few days later, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced the Concept of Operations on Drones.

I. The Riga Declaration

The Riga Declaration contains five policy principles:

1) Drones need to be treated as new types of aircraft with proportionate rules based on the risk of each operation.
The Riga Declaration clarifies that RPAS are aircraft and should be as safe as manned aircraft. However, rules should be simple and performance-based, to provide the necessary flexibility to the industry to develop. The riskier the type of operations the stricter the regulations should be.

2) EU rules for the safe provision of drone services need to be developed now.
The Riga Declaration recognizes the exponential development and the potential of civil drones and urges the rapid development of uniform rules both at the EU level through EASA and at global level through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS). In this regard, the Declaration calls EASA to consult stakeholders of small RPAS by mid-2015 and to propose regulations by the end of the year. It is obvious that EASA basic Regulation, which is about to be amended in 2015, will increase EASA’s competencies on RPAS regulations (currently EASA is competent for aircraft with a mass of more than 150 kg).  

3) Technologies and standards need to be developed for the full integration of
drones in the European airspace. 
The Riga Declaration envisages Air Navigation Services / Air Traffic Management (ANS/ATM) technologies in this regard, developed mainly through the SESAR project, in order to produce benefits for manned aviation as well.

4) Public acceptance is key to the growth of drone services. 
This principle related to privacy, data protection, noise and security. The EU has already in place a regulatory framework on data protection and aircraft noise. However, there will be no further EU involvement in these domains with regard to RPAS, as both the Riga Declaration and EASA have made clear.

5) The operator of a drone is responsible for its use. 
The Riga Declaration underlines the need to establish measures of identification of RPAS operators. It also mentions third-party liability and obligatory insurance rules, while contemplating setting up a compensation fund to cover damages by uninsured operators at the example of the motor insurance sector. To improve safety and share experiences, the Declaration proposes the establishment of an EU-wide incident reporting system.

Finally, the Riga Declaration expressed the intention to create a web portal to help Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) find pertinent regulatory information and promote their development. The European Commission has already called for proposals to procure the development of such platform for regulations on small RPAS (‹150 kg).

II. EASA’s concept of operations for drones

EASA’s concept of operations aims at establishing a regulatory balance between safety and industry development. Although regulations will be based on existing rules for manned aircraft, such rules need to be adapted to the operational and economic particularities of RPAS. The rules have to be proportionate, progressive, risk based and complemented by industry standards.

EASA proposes three categories of operations and regulations: Open, Specific and Certified.

The Open category should not require an official authorization but respect certain operational restrictions, like operations within Visual Line of Sight (VLoS), flying below a maximum altitude and outside specified areas like airports and populated areas. No airworthiness approvals or pilot licensing will be required. EASA suggests that only RPAS up to a certain mass fall under the Open category. Yet, the exact mass will depend on the outcome of the shareholder consultation.   

The Specific category will require the RPAS operator to conduct a risk assessment and propose mitigation measures. Such assessment will be subject to approval by the competent national aviation authority, which shall issue an Operations Authorization (OA), with specific limitations adapted to a single operation or a series of operations. EASA clarifies that the  safety  risk  assessment  has  to  address  airworthiness, operating  procedures  and  environment, competence of involved personnel and organizations, as well as airspace issues. The minimum level of safety and airworthiness could be based on acceptable industry standards. 

The Certified category will apply to riskier operations or might be requested on a voluntary basis by organizations providing services, (e.g. remote piloting) or equipment (e.g. collision-avoidance systems). EASA views the requirements for this category as quite analogous to the ones in force for manned aviation. The Agency finds this category necessary for political  reasons  and  convenient  for  practical  reasons - it  would  be  difficult  for  the public to accept that a drone of the size of an airliner is not certified; besides such category could limit the number of safety risk assessments to be performed, when they address comparable operations. EASA has not defined the limit between Specific and Certified category, but suggests using criteria like kinetic energy, type of operations and complexity of the drone notably in terms of autonomy.

Furthermore, EASA proposes a set of safety promotion actions, namely (a) develop a list of “do’s and don’ts” for operators, (b) organize video campaigns, (c) educate enforcement authorities on the regulatory framework.

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