The advancement of mankind has resulted in the emerging of various game-changing technology and mostly, policies or rules and regulations are drafted and implemented to provide guidance if the particular innovation poses risk to humans, environment and others. The drone technology which has progressed exponentially over the years is no exception. One of the bodies that regulates the drone industry is the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) by essentially developing and publishing safety and environmental standards for civil aviation.
As part of policy, the EASA currently classifies drone operations into three categories based on their level of risk. Basically, each has precise requirements for the drone, the drone operator, and drone operation: The open category, which typically involves small, low-risk drones used for recreational purposes or low-risk commercial operations; the specific category, which involves complex or higher-risk operations; and finally, the certified category, which is intended for the highest-risk operations.
Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS, a type of drone operation where the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is flown outside the visual range of the operator falls under the specific category. Thus, the following are some of the major rules and regulations formulated by the EASA for the specific category:
The EASA requires drone operators to fly within a defined geographic zone. The main purpose of this directive is to ensure that the drone remains within a well-defined and controlled operating area in order to reduce the risk of conflict with other aircraft, people, hazards and others. It has to be noted that the geographic area will vary based on the type of operation and the associated risks, but may include restrictions on altitude, flight paths, and operational hours. Likewise, authorization from relevant authorities to operate within the geographic zone must be attained including clearance to fly in any controlled airspace and must comply with all regulatory requirements such as those related to remote pilot licensing, insurance and real-time monitoring.
Another necessary requirement is carrying out risk assessment which overall is a crucial step in ensuring the safety and efficiency of drone operations in addition to helping in protecting people, property and the environment. Specifically, this process assists in identifying and evaluating the potential dangers and risks associated with drone flight such as collisions with other aircraft, obstacles or people and to put into place measures for minimizing the risks. This is also important because it provides proper guidance for prioritizing and allocating resources to manage the risks such as adjusting flight plans or implementing additional safety measures. Ultimately, it is a step forward to continuous improvement by enabling constant evaluation and improving the safety of their drone operations, taking into account changes in the operational environment, technology and regulations.
Further, drone operators have to undergo training to effectively operate and achieve specific tasks. The level of training can vary depending on the drone’s features and capabilities as well as the intended use. For example, drones for aerial photography may require basic flying skills while drones for industrial purposes may require specialized training on how to operate and interpret the data collected. Additionally, some countries have regulations requiring pilots to be trained and licensed before operating drones.
To add, a drone must have the necessary equipment and systems installed for that particular operation. As one way of ensuring safety, a drone must have features including but not limited to the ability to detect and avoid other air traffic, to maintain reliable communication links with ground control, and comply with the relevant air traffic control regulations. It has to be pointed out that precise specifications and requirements vary depending on the type and category of drone, as well as the specific operational scenario. Nevertheless, in general the goal is to ensure the safety of other airspace users and the general public during Operations.
In summary, EASA rules are paramount for various reasons: firstly, safety which is the primary reason because by requiring drones to have certain necessary features and comply with specific operational requirements, EASA aims to minimize the risk of accidents or incidents during operations. Secondly, it is for standardization purposes. Essentially, EASA regulations help to standardize drone operations across the European Union (EU), ensuring a consistent level of safety and efficiency for all drone users. This aids in facilitating the integration of drones into the overall airspace. Thirdly, the rules assist in encouraging innovation in the drone industry consequently leading to new and advanced drone technologies and capabilities which help in addressing challenges of complex missions. Lastly, it is one way of consumer protection because the rules ensure that the drones sold meet UE minimum standards for safety and performance as well as protecting consumers from unscrupulous operators who might sell dangerous or unreliable drones.