Brexit or no Brexit – Change is Coming

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In February 2018 the European Aviation Safety Agency published its latest version of the proposed drone laws across Europe post-2019. An ‘Opinion’ in Euro-speak. Somehow they managed to work their way through 3700 comments from 215 bodies and individuals.

If you have time and motivation to analyse 41 pages of dense legalise then go for it; the full document is here. Alternatively, here’s the run-down on where we are. Probably.

What’s going on?

EASA is attempting to harmonise drone legislation across Europe, basing it on a risk-based approach (i.e. not just on the mass of a drone but also on what it’s going to be doing) and also manufacturing requirements (i.e. CE marks of conformity).

But Brexit means Brexit, right?

Whatever happens in UK politics, these rules are likely to hit British statutes in some form. However, exactly how that happens is really not clear. But, a couple of options:
1) UK becomes a non-member-state member of EASA. Full membership looks unlikely though, certainly according to the latest EU briefing documents. There is word that the UK is holding out for this option.
2) UK becomes a ‘third country’ in Euro-speak but with a BASA [Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement] and working relationships establishing inter-acceptance of certificates and licences. This would have the disadvantage of not allowing the UK to have input into future changes, meaning we either have to accept changes or sacrifice the advantages of a harmonised system. Now that wasn’t in the referendum campaign literature was it….

 

Where were we up to before the ‘Opinion’

Deep breath.

The proposals set out three categories:
1) Open – for low risk operations using relatively small drones
2) Specific – for higher-risk operations where some operational standards will be implemented (akin to a watered down version of the current Operating Safety Case process)
3) Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC) – for specialist work generally using large drones (e.g. Amazon deliveries)

Existing commercial operators will for the most part be scooped up by either the Open or Specific categories, depending on the size of the drone and how specific their requirements are.

What has the ‘Opinion’ done to change things?

Not much, but there are some important areas. Appeasing the model aircraft brigade was a priority, which we won’t go into here. But they’ve also put out some important clarifications on registration, operating limits, and technical requirements. Here’s the latest…..

Cross-border documents

This is the big win for commercial operators. The advantage of EASA regulation (rather than national regulation) is that rights and permissions are intended to be interchangeable. i.e. An operating permission in one country should be valid in another. Countries outside EASA can also apply to have their documentation accepted.

One word of caution: member states may well publish variations to the standards, especially the UK if it takes the status of ‘third country’ (see above). That may well undermine the principle of inter-operability.

Will I still need a ‘Permission’?

Yes and no. Most operators are likely to fall into the ‘A2′ class of operations, unless they want to conduct low risk activities completely away from uncontrolled persons. This will require a sub-4kg drone and approval from, most likely, one of the exisiting National Qualified Entities (NQEs) on behalf of the UK CAA. However, that looks unlikely to include a flight test (again for sub-4kg drones), rather ‘familiarisation flights’ conducted privately.

That said, there is scope for jobs to be done in the ‘A1′ category (e.g. a Mavic Pro) which will require only online training as a means of registering as an operator.

Are there any new technical requirements?

Yes.

  • ‘A new requirement has been added to mandate a smooth transition in the event of the activation of an automatic flight mode.’ Well, hopefully your drone does that already.
  • Drones above 250g will need to have quite a sophisticated tagging system broadcasting not just the registration number but also serial number and some GPS information (e.g. where it took off from)
  • drones must have unique serial numbers
  • low-speed mode (‘tripod mode’) mandated for the ‘C2′ class

What’s that about tripod mode?

This is a big one. If you have a tripod mode then your minimum separation from ‘uninvolved’ persons goes right down to either 3m or 5m (the document is inconsistent on that). This blows the requirement for an OSC for operators of sub-7kg drones.

Tethering

The potential let-off for tethered drones is eliminated. They have to meet the requirements of untethered drones.

Do I need to register?

Yes, unless the drone is under 250g. EASA really can’t be bothered with micro drones.

What about height restrictions?

There was a plan to limit <250g drones to 50m height but that’s been scrapped. The 120m rule applies to all, at least in the Open category. But line-of-sight restrictions also apply which probably counts against flying your Spark at 120m.

Carrying dangerous stuff

…is now permitted again in the Open category. As long as it’s for farming or forestry work.

Cars and boats

Operating from moving vehicles is now explicitly permitted, aligning with the US Part 107 regulations as it happens.

The dreaded Operations Manual

Ops Manuals look set to be rarer beasts. They won’t be required in the Open category it appears, and there’s also scope for standardised manuals for much work in the Specific category. Bad news for Ops Manual reviewers.

Finally, when does all this happen?

The target for ‘decision’ is roughly Easter 2019. Brexit alert!

That said, the process has already slipped along the way so further slides may occur.

Thought has also been given to the transition process, with the wheeling out of that favourite European concept, the ‘derogation’. Once the ‘application’ date has arrived (presumably late 2019):

  • registration process must be in place
  • no-fly zones across the member states must be decided
  • NQEs must be nominated
  • 3-month period for operators to register (although existing operators get up to 1 year to register according to the new framework)
  • 2-year period for all manufacturers to comply with the CE standards on all products

 

In summary….

Complicated they may be, but these rules look to free up a lot of the commercial drone market from onerous training and certification requirements. The big winners are the roof surveyors and estate agents with DJI Mavics who will be largely free to go about their business with little red tape.

The rump of commercial operators flying the likes of DJI Inspire will be fairly happy too. Gone is the nonsense of writing an Operational Safety Case around an off-the-shelf aircraft to get a close-proximity permission.  For specialist operators it’s largely a case of ‘keep calm and carry on shooting’. Rights earned under the OSC system are likely to be continued and rightfully hard to obtain for those without the expertise.

If it’s bad news for anyone, then it’s the rogue Mavic flyer who wants to fly down the ILS approach at Heathrow. EASA has them squarely in its sights.

 

 

 

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