European UAS Regulation Further Delayed

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has been developing centralized UAS regulations over the past several years. 

This work culminated in the passing of Regulation (EU) 2019/947 and Regulation (EU) 2019/945 last year. The regulations aim to standardize the different regulations of the Member States, and to regulate the civil use of drones in a way that corresponds first and foremost to operation type, performance, and risk, rather than whether or not the pilot is being financially compensated.

It took a long time to get consensus among key stakeholders, but EASA believes that the resulting regulations will give European service and technology providers easy access to neighboring markets.  

These regs came out almost a year ago, so why should we start paying attention now?

Although technically these regulations have been in force since their publication in 2019, their progressive application was set to begin in 2020. Initially, implementation was to start 1 July, but the situation caused by the health crisis of COVID-19 forced EASA to adjust the timeline several times.

So, when will implementation begin?

On 5 June, EASA updated the tentative implementation timeline with the following key deadlines:

  • By 31 December 2020, the partial application of Regulation EU 2019/947 will begin, and the European Registry of Operators (AESA registration and European EASA repository) will be live.
  • By 1 January 2022, The Spanish Civil Aviation Authority regulations will no longer be in force, and the operators’ registry and pilot certification conversion to the standard established by the new EASA drone regulations will be established.
  • By 1 January 2023, only EC-marked drones will be allowed to be sold, clubs and model airplane associations will have brought their UAS operations in line with EASA and national regulations
 

How do these regulations impact UAS operators?

In April, EASA published an “Easy Access” guide, that explains the regulations in layman’s terms.

We strongly recommend that you check it out if you plan to perform UAS operations in the EU in 2021 or beyond. But one thing, in particular, that will change is the process to get authorization for UAS operations.

Okay, how will that change?

First and foremost, the regulations are intended to do away with the limitations and ambiguity around commercial and non-commercial drone operations.

Under the new UAS regulations, authorizations will be issued based on the following three elements:

  • Type of operation being conducted
  • Level of risk
  • Level of performance

Practically speaking, in the future, if you’d like to perform anything other than “Open Category” (essentially extremely low risk) UAS operations in EASA member states after 2020, you’ll probably need to obtain an Operational Authorization (OA), and in order to obtain that, you’ll first need to obtain a GVC (General Visual Line of Sight Certificate.) 

This means that people who have the older forms of authorization need to plan their transition to obtaining an OA.

Give me an example.

Okay.

So in the U.K. (which is leaving EASA but still adopting the new UAS regulations), the key authorization for professional UAS operations is currently Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO). To get a PfCO, one needs to first obtain a Nationally Qualified Entity (NQE) recommendation, which requires a logged amount of flight  experience, a satisfactory score on a theoretical knowledge test, a flight planning assessment, a flight assessment, and an operations manual (OM).

But, under the new regulations, instead of pursuing an NQE recommendation for a PfCO, prospective drone operators will need to look into getting their GVCs, which have similar but distinct requirements, in the near future.

When is "the near future?"

It depends on whether or not you already have authorization for professional UAS operations.

In the U.K., if you don’t already have a PfCO after 31 December 2020,  you’ll need to get a GVC, and then an OA. Meanwhile, PfCO holders will be able to renew the PfCO under their current NQE recommendation in 2020 as per normal, but what happens next is not entirely clear yet.

The CAA state that, at some point in the future, they will require all NQE recommendations to be converted into GVCs. To make matters more complicated, there’s another path that current or aspiring professional UAS operators can take: rather than obtaining an OA, they could opt for an A2 Certificate of Competency (A2 CofC), which is easier to obtain but comes with significant limitations when compared to an OA.

As a result, UAS professionals that perform “lower risk” operations with lightweight platforms may opt for this, but most UAS companies will need to get an OA. 

I’m still not clear on when PfCOs will stop being valid.

It’s still not certain.

The exact timescale of the aforementioned transition has not yet been finalized, but the CAA expects that it will be complete 2024 or 2025. That means that it’s possible that PfCO holders could continue to use their NQE recommendations in the meantime… but it’s not certain yet.

So, there will basically be two or more acceptable forms of authorization in EASA member states?

It’s likely.

Although, each country’s aviation authority has to decide for itself how to transition to the new authorization framework, and some might phase out the old authorization method sooner than others.

It will be important to stay up-to-date on aviation authority updates in any country in which you’d like to operate, as it’s possible that the implementation timeline may be further delayed or adjusted.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

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