• Digital Single Market

    Slashing red tape for civil drones

    While the European Parliament is due to adopt a report outlining legislation plans for civil use of drones, the European Aviation Safety Agency is looking to alleviate the bureaucratic burden for the operators. International civil aviation has been built [read more]
    byFilippo Tomasello | 21/Sep/20156 min read
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    While the European Parliament is due to adopt a report outlining legislation plans for civil use of drones, the European Aviation Safety Agency is looking to alleviate the bureaucratic burden for the operators.

    International civil aviation has been built on the basis of the Chicago Convention (1944) among whose cornerstones one may notice Article 31 (all aircraft need a certificate of airworthiness (CofA) issued by the aviation authority) and Article 32 (each pilot needs a valid licence).

    These two dogmas stood for decades, but today the fact is that we have thousands of small drones flying around without CofA and piloted by skilled remote pilots, who however do not hold a formal licence issued by the authority.

    This situation is not illegal. On the contrary, several States in the world have promulgated rules which allow to authorise the operator (e.g. if the drone is less than 25 kg) to carry out commercial specialised operations (alias aerial work) in the absence of formal CofA and pilot licence. This is the case for France, Germany, Italy, UK and several other States around the world.

    In the European Union (EU) civil drones above 150 kg are subject to current EASA rules and therefore to an impressive amount of paperwork: type certification of the design; individual certificate of airworthiness (CofA) for each produced drone; pilot licence and medical certificate; licence of certifying staff for maintenance; approval of organisations involved in design, in production, in maintenance, in operations and in training of licensed professions; approval of major changes by EASA and few more.

    The “Riga declaration” signed by the political EU authorities at the maximum level last March, envisaged the possibility of extending the mandate of EASA to drones of any mass, but based on “proportionate” rules.

    It is clear in fact that a small drone of few kilos, operated at few metres above the ground in the countryside has little possibility of causing a catastrophe. On the other side is equally clear that the terrific amount of paperwork summarised above would be unbearable for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

    But what does “proportionality” means? Sometimes I say, in non-bureaucratic but expressive terms, that proportionality means: “neither kill humans … nor SMEs”.

    So the major aviation safety regulators around the world, in 2015 began to think seriously whether the historical dogmas, and associated long list of official papers issued by the aviation authorities, should be maintained or not for small unmanned aircraft.

    In February the USA Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to allow drones of less than 25 kg to fly without CofA. In March, immediately after the Riga Declaration” EASA published a “Concept of Operations”, proposing three categories:

    – “open” (low risk for society and no official papers issued by the aviation authority);

    – “specific” (medium risk and only one mandatory paper from the authority: the operational authorisation or operator certificate);

    – “certified” (high risk and the long list of certificates and approvals normally required for commercial aviation).

    These ideas seem to be supported by the TRAN Committee of the European Parliament which has drafted a motion to urge the Commission to propose EU legislation for drones, including small ones, of course based on said principle of “proportionality”.

    ….but: do the citizens agree? Now they have the opportunity to express their opinions, since anyone can comment on the Advanced EASA Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) 2015-10[1], open for comments until 25 September, and which indeed develops more detailed proposals for the three categories, in preparation of the future EU legislation on the matter.

    I would therefore urge all involved stakeholders to consult this A-NPA and to possibly comment. This A-NPA could lead to a proposal to amend the Basic EASA Regulation (EU 216/2008) and announces that, subsequently, EASA will propose implementing rules, while standard making bodies (e.g. EUROCAE) will develop industry standards.

    The A-NPA states that one issue is the “huge number of drones: the production rate of small drones is simply unprecedented in aviation. In 2014, the two main manufacturers of small drones have produced around 1 million drones and they plan to produce the double in 2015. Such numbers go beyond the current NAA or Agency certification capacity”.

    True. But hence to protect society we need more resources to oversee this emerging segment of industry. It is very unlikely that States will assign additional resources to aviation authorities to cope with drones; but additional resources could be provided by the market, through “qualified entities” (QEs), if only industry and operators were allowed to contract them.

    Today Art, 13 of the Basic Regulation allows QEs to be contracted only by authorities. I guess it should be amended to allow QEs, once accredited by the authority, to stay on the market and support collective safety though independent assessments.

    The most controversial point may be the “open” category, subject to no formal approval, but subject to a DG-GROW Directive on the safety of products, addressing manufacturers, but also importers of e.g. Chinese products.

    The Directive would contain not only essential requirements, but also the obligation for the vendor to clearly inform buyers on the operational limitations (e.g. not above 50 m of height). An operator going beyond such limitations would be illegal and enforcement mainly delegated to police and not to the aviation authority.

    This approach is not necessarily unsafe, providing the thresholds of the category are wisely set and the operational limitations as well. And especially if insurers and QEs would de facto impose market rules, beyond legal obligations. But it is definitely a very novel approach for the aviation community: I am sure that it will attract a lot of comments.

    [1] http://www.easa.europa.eu/document-library/notices-of-proposed-amendment/npa-2015-10



    Picture credits: dronesurvivalguide.org
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  • Digital Single Market

    Drone regulation: Where we stand in Europe

    In Europe several countries already promulgated rules on civil drones. As the number of operators is expected to increase by 10 times in the next five years the EU is now focusing on developing a common policy. 2015 could be the year of drones in non-mil [read more]
    byFilippo Tomasello | 16/Mar/201511 min read
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    In Europe several countries already promulgated rules on civil drones. As the number of operators is expected to increase by 10 times in the next five years the EU is now focusing on developing a common policy.

    2015 could be the year of drones in non-military aviation, marked by the ICAO Manual, the EU Riga Declaration and the American Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

    In February the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) released the first edition of the “Manual” (Doc 10019) on the international use of drones for civil applications. The basic ideas are that the drone should be airworthy (no wonder), but also that the person flying it from the ground is a pilot: “remote pilot”, but still executing the tasks and be accountable as a pilot.

    Furthermore, and this is quite new in the ICAO literature, a chapter in the Manual is devoted to the “operator”, i.e. the entity taking responsibility for the entire cycle of operations: maintenance, qualification of the remote pilot, procedures, authorisations, insurance, privacy and data protection, etc.

    In the EU several Member States (MS) already promulgated rules on civil drones, which, below 150 kg, are still a national responsibility. The most important common denominator across all these rules is indeed the central role of the operator: the operator has to apply to the civil aviation authority to obtain permits to fly, even for commercial purposes.

    Consequently the holder of the authorisation has privileges (i.e. flying within certain limitations) and responsibilities (e.g. liability).

    On 6 March the EU aviation leaders gathered in Riga, invited by the Latvian Presidency, and delivered a declaration[1] which states that rules are “necessary now” and that the operator of a drone is responsible for its use: “When a drone service is delivered, the authorities should be able to act and hold the operator accountable”.

    The approach based on regulating the responsibilities and privileges of the operator, already adopted by several MS, is hence expected to become a central pillar of the EU policy for civil drones.

    In the MS there are already around 3,000 civil operators of drones legally authorised to fly. This number may increase by 10 times in the next five years, not only based on market forces and technology, but also on clear and proportionate rules on the internal market, without which no business case is credible, while insurers would be very hesitant.

    But, after the Second World War, the USA have been the leaders guiding the development of civil aviation around the globe. Is this still true for the drones? On the technology side, no doubts, the Americans have excellent products, which represent a fierce competition to EU manufacturers. But on the regulatory framework, which is also a key enabler for the internal market, is the FAA leading the world? I believe not.

    The USA in fact, were the first in the world to introduce (1926) the idea of a “type approval” for the design of an aircraft model, which is then industrially manufactured in several individuals.

    This idea proved effective and contributed to make traditional commercial aviation as safe as we know it today. But a type approval requires a lot of technical effort and documents to be submitted to the aviation authority. Is it thinkable for drones of few kg which anyone can buy through the web? Possibly not.

    And in fact, through section 333 of the reauthorization act of 2012[2], the USA legislator obliged the FAA to grant “exceptions” for small unmanned aircraft, including their possible commercial use.

    The approach is hence diverging across the Atlantic: the FAA has been extremely cautious, since, due to the novelty of drones, they were not sure about the technical approach to be followed.

    Their delay has forced the political authorities to act and presently the FAA is granting case-by-case “exceptions”, without any general rule yet promulgated. Again no wonder: this is since centuries the approach of the “common law” still greatly influencing the American culture.

    In the EU, on the contrary, we are heavily biased by the Illuminist top-down approach and therefore we started from the operator and its responsibilities and privileges, even if technical standards were not yet mature…. and we are ahead of the USA for the regulation of civil drones.

    Unable to further resist the political pressures, the FAA on last 23 February has published a NPRM on “small UAS”[3] to allow routine use of certain small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the USA aviation system, while maintaining flexibility to accommodate future technological innovations.

    The FAA proposal offers safety rules for small UAS (under 55 pounds, which around 25 kg) conducting non-recreational operations (commercial or non-commercial, but always professional). The rule would limit flights to daylight and visual-line-of-sight operations (VLOS).

    It also addresses height restrictions, operator certification, optional use of a visual observer, aircraft registration and marking, and operational limits.

    This proposed rule is for some aspects similar to the European approach, since it finally accepts that for small UAS formal airworthiness certification may not be necessary, while operations could be limited to VLOS in day light conditions, below 150 meters of altitude and below a given speed.

    But still it uses the term “operator” and the term “pilot” as equivalent, while in Europe the distinction is clear and the former is responsible not only for safety, but also for security, liability, insurance, privacy and data protection.

    Anyway the FAA NPRM is a good step in the right direction: “rules now, even if technology is not standardised”. But still the semantics and the cultural approach (i.e. no sufficient attention to the “organisations”) are not fully aligned with ICAO and EU.

    At worldwide level the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS) are also applying the ICAO and EU approach and presently developing a set of requirements (JARUS-ORG) for the organisations[4], including operators, involved in civil operations of drones.

    In conclusion the expansion of the civil market for drones is unavoidable and will also bring benefits to society in terms of new services and new jobs.

    In this context ICAO, JARUS and Europe are going towards a comprehensive regulatory framework whose central pillar is the operator and they have jointly the possibility of influencing the rest of the world. The FAA is, at least for moment lagging a little bit behind.


    [1] http://ec.europa.eu/transport/modes/air/news/doc/2015-03-06-drones/2015-03-06-riga-declaration-drones.pdf
    [2] http://fas.org/sgp/news/2012/02/faa-uas.html
    [3] https://www.faa.gov/uas/nprm/
    [4] http://jarus-rpas.org/index.php/deliverable/category/11-external-consultation-on-jarus-org?download=52:draft-jarus-org-v0-17-27-apr-2014-for-ext-consult


    Photo Credits: David Rodriguez Martin
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