European Aviation Safety Agency Sets Guidance for Risk-Based UAV Operations


The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has published what it calls a “technical opinion” on the safe use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Europe’s civil airspace.

According to EASA, the technical opinion sets the direction to be followed for all future work that will ensure UAVs are operated safely and interact safely with other airspace users – but at the same time, enables the industry to grow.

The opinion also serves as guidance for the European Union (EU) Member States that have no rules for small UAVs or that plan to modify their existing ones. EASA says this will ensure as much consistency as possible and also provide a roadmap presenting the steps to be taken in the future.

The opinion includes 27 concrete proposals for a regulatory framework for operating all unmanned aircraft – irrespective of their weight. The proposals focus more on how the drones will be used rather than their physical characteristics, explains EASA.

The proposal establishes three categories of operation: open, specific and certified. Each has different safety requirements proportionate to the risk. Most of the drone usage will belong to the open category, which is for operations with limited safety risk and would be overseen by law enforcement agencies.

One of the key measures for this category will be limitation zones, geographical areas in which UAVs would be limited or not allowed at all. EASA also notes that technology such as geofencing, which prevents flights in restricted zones, would be a key component.

The more complex and risky the operation is, the more stringent the requirements will be, the agency says. For example, the requirements for certified operations are similar to those for manned aviation.

This technical opinion follows the principles recently established by the European Commission in its Aviation Strategy. In March, EASA laid out a concept of operations for UAVs, which included a similar framework of open, specific and certified categories of operation.

EASA says it will now work on the most appropriate set of tools, including the development of rules, guidance material or safety promotions.

“Unmanned aircraft and the technological innovations they bring are changing quickly the landscape for aviation,” says Patrick Ky, EASA’s executive director. “The agency proposals ensure safety remains a priority while allowing proportionality and flexibility for new innovations.”

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