Callum Holland, Flight Operations Manager for SOARIZON takes a look at the new EU drone regulations coming into force across the European Union in January 2021.
Since small drones started becoming popular back in 2013, when DJI released their original Phantom multi-rotor drone, the regulation of drones has been handled at a national level.
However, in 2015, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), was tasked by the European Commission to develop a framework for all drones, including those below 150kg. The aims of this framework were to:
Support the potential for rapid growth in the sector
Ensure drone operations are safe, secure, and environmentally friendly
Respect citizens’ concerns for privacy and data protection
To standardise rules for small drones across all EU member states
In July 2015, EASA published an “Introduction of a regulatory framework for the operation of drones” as an advanced notice of proposed amendment (A-NPA 2015-10). This publication went out for public consultation and, in December that year, EASA published a Technical Opinion based on the feedback it had received
The EASA regulatory framework was developed in such a way that it fulfilled the following attributes:
In 2019, EASA proposed a number of regulations, and after consultation with EU member states, there were subsequently adopted by the European Commission. These include the Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945 (DR), the Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 (IR) which were ‘hard law’, and a number of other documents such as the Acceptable Mean of Compliance (AMC) and Guidance Material (GM), which were ‘soft law’.
‘Hard laws’ would have to be implemented by all Member States, whereas ‘soft laws’ were non-binding and would only provide examples of how compliance could be obtained (e.g. certification requirements). The National Aviation Authority (NAA) of member states could modify AMC or GM rules as much as they wished in order to comply with any requirements, however it was expected that these would generally be developed by standardisation bodies such as the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS).
These regulations were due to come into effect on 1st July 2020, however due to the impact of COVID-19 across Europe, this date was pushed back until 1st January 2021.
So, with only a few months left for operators to prepare their business for this change, what do the new EU drone regulations look like?
The Implementing Regulation details three main categories of operation:
The open category is designed to allow operators to fly drones with minimal hassle. It covers the operation of small drones, less than 25kg, and restricts operations to within visual line of sight, below certain altitudes and at pre-defined distances from people.
The open category requires no approval to operate whether or not your operation is commercial. However, there are a number of product requirements that your drone will need to meet to operate within this category, and some training is generally required.
The specific category allows operator much more flexibility to operate compared with the open category and can cover aircraft up to 150kg in some cases.
The operator can set their own rules and complete more complex operations which would not be allowed under the open category.
The specific category requires approval from your NAA to operate and will require you to undertake some form of training, write an operating manual and complete an operational risk assessment, such as a Specific Operation Risk Assessment (SORA), in order to obtain an operational authorisation.
This category will be required for medium risk operations, such as larger drones in congested areas, through to beyond visual line of sight operations in rural locations.
The certified category requires a much more stringent process in line with manned aviation. It is designed primarily for larger drones and for high risk operations. Pilot training in line with manned aviation is required, and some form of airworthiness for the aircraft will need to be obtained.
Similar to the specific category, the certified category provides the operator with flexibility. Any specific category operations which are above the risk threshold for the specific category, will be required to be approved within the certified category.
The next two articles in this series will cover the open and specific categories respectively, where we will deep dive into these categories to explain what is required. The certified category will not be covered in this series of articles because it is less applicable to most operators, however more information can be found in Article 6 of the Implementing Regulation.
Like with any regulatory change, there are a number of risks and opportunities presented to the industry. For new operators, the barriers to entry will be significantly lower as you'll no longer need to be recognised as a commercial entity and the most common drone jobs are likely to fall within the open category.
Similarly, if you want to operate beyond visual line of sight, the standard scenarios and pre-defined risk assessments may make that type of operation easier to achieve. What is certain is that these new EU drone regulations have been designed to help the drone industry grow, and all NAAs within the member states have contributed to develop them. This new framework and is designed to help operators do more with less.
As with any operation, poor planning and management will result in mistakes being made and will result in a very inefficient operation. It is really important that your internal procedures are comprehensive and consistent to ensure your pilots do not make simple mistakes which cause delays or inefficiencies.
The specific category will require you to have robust safety management practices in place. Without these safety management systems, there is a risk that your NAA will simply reject your application for an operational authorisation. So it is important as an organisation that you have these in place, not only to improve safety within your organisation, but to convince the regulators to give you permission for more complex environments.
SOARIZON’s simple and intuitive flight planning process helps you to ensure compliance and consistency in your drone operations.
As a drone pilot, the more time you can spend flying and processing data, the better for your business. SOARIZON helps you save time during the planning process, whilst ensuring that you remain compliant to all existing and emerging regulations.
When applying for an operational authorisation, drone operators using SOARIZON will be able to demonstrate to their NAA that they have a strong safety management system and can operate safely.
Our next article will focus on Open category operations. This category presents some significant opportunities to your organisation if you want to operate small drones in congested areas.
If you would like to find out more about how SOARIZON can help prepare you for the new EU drone regulations, get in touch with us and a member of our team can give you further information.