Turkish Law Blog

Aviation Safety in EU: Drones

Asuman Gözüaçık Asuman Gözüaçık/ Sapienza Università di Roma
21 February, 2019

1. What is Drone and Its Usage Areas?

In technical terms, drones are Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), as they are aircraft operated with no pilot on board. Nevertheless, everybody calls them drones. They can vary from very small aircraft as big as a fly (nano-drones weighing 10-20 grams) to very large ones such as the Global Hawk with its 15 tons, used by NASA for scientific purposes. 

Drone technology has developed in the last few years. Individuals, commercial entities, and governments have come to realize that drones have multiple uses, which include aerial photography for journalism and film, express shipping and delivery, gathering information or supplying essentials for disaster management,  thermal sensor drones for search and rescue operations, geographic mapping of inaccessible terrain and locations, building safety inspections, law enforcement and border control surveillance and storm tracking and forecasting hurricanes and tornadoes. Besides all these usage areas, military usage of drones has also become the primary use in today's world. Used as target decoys, for combat missions, research and development, and for supervision, drones have been part and parcel of the military forces worldwide.

Briefly, unmanned aircraft (or ‘drones’) is a fast developing sector of aviation, with great potential for producing new jobs and growth. The European Commission predicts that by 2035, drones are expected to create over 100.000 jobs and produce more than € 10 Billion per year. As a result, that’s why the unmanned aircrafts or drones must be safely integrated into the airspace.

2. The EU Regulation and Its Novelties

On 4 July 2018 the European Parliament and the Council adopted updated aviation safety rules for Europe with the Regulation no. 2018/1139, including a new mandate for the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in the domain of drones and urban air mobility. This regulation entered into force on 11 September 2018.

There are many several changes which comes up with the Regulation no. 2018/1139. The Regulation no. 2018/1139 introduces risk- and performance-based rules, which set objectives but leave some flexibility as to the means for achieving them. It also promotes taking non-binding measures (such as safety promotion actions) whenever this is possible. This approach will stimulate innovation and allow required safety levels to be achieved more cost-effectively.

The new Regulation revises the scope of the common rules, by excluding small, single occupancy hot-air balloons, adjusting the weight limits for sailplanes, and adding light electric aircraft. It gives Member States the opportunity to apply certain provisions of the regulation to state aircraft. The Regulation also adds essential safety requirements for ground-handling services and makes a reform that aims to deal with the growth of air traffic, increase security, reduce costs, delays and the impact of air traffic on the environment.

Lastly, the Regulation extends EASA's competences, e.g. in the field of security (including cyber- security) and the environment and states essential requirements for drones. The rules are meant to be proportionate to the risk of the particular operation or type of operation. They state that the drone must be safely controllable and manoeuvrable. It should be designed to fit its function and take into account privacy and protection of personal data by design and by default. Identification of the drone and of the nature and purpose of the operation should also be possible. The regulation also states that the drone operator be responsible for its operation and should have knowledge and skills proportionate to operating the drone safely.

3. The Proposal of EASA

Before the new Regulation no. 2018/1139 was formally adopted, in earlier 2018, EASA has published Opinion 01/2018 which includes introduction of a regulatory framework for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems in the ‘open’ and ‘specific’ categories:

  • open’ category is a category of UAS operation that, considering the risks involved, does not require a prior authorisation by the competent authority nor a declaration by the UAS operator before the operation takes place;
  • ‘specific’ category is a category of UAS operation that, considering the risks involved, requires an authorisation by the competent authority before the operation takes place, taking into account the mitigation measures identified in an operational risk assessment, except for certain standard scenarios where a declaration by the operator is sufficient or when the operator holds a light UAS operator certificate (LUC) with the appropriate privileges.;
  • ‘certified’ category is a category of UA operation that, considering the risks involved, requires the certification of the UAS, a licensed remote pilot and an operator approved by the competent authority, in order to ensure an appropriate level of safety.

According to EASA, previous regulation on civil aviation needed to be updated because, while heavy drones fall under general EU aviation rules, unmanned aircraft weighing less than 150kg are regulated at the national level, which has led to inconsistent standards across different countries. Drones also pose a number of safety risks. Even drones below 150kg can damage aircraft, cause injuries and contribute to air and sound pollution. Drones fitted with cameras can also threaten privacy and register people’s personal data without their consent. Thus, EASA declared that the Opinion 01/2018 is intended to:

  • implement an operation-centric, proportionate, risk- and performance-based regulatory framework for all UAS operations conducted in the ‘open’ and ‘specific’ categories;
  • ensure a high and uniform level of safety for UAS operations;
  • foster the development of the UAS market; and
  • contribute to addressing citizens’ concerns regarding security, privacy, data protection, and environmental protection.

One of EASA’s novelties is the combination between product and aviation legislations in these new rules. In particular, design requirements for small drones (up to 25kg) will be implemented by using the well-known CE marking (“Conformité Européenne”/European Conformity) for products brought on the market in Europe. All European drones will have assigned a CE-Marking with a number between 0 and 4, that will specify the class of the drone (C0, C1, C2, C3 and C4).

The other term which introduced by EASA is U-Space. U-Space is the term adopted for a set of services supporting low level drone operations (below 120 m). A fully automated infrastructure will provide the drone pilots with all the information needed to conduct a safe operation, including air traffic management, and will ensure that drones do not enter any restricted zones. 

In particular, U-Space will provide support to Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations and will be the fundamental basis for dense operations in urban areas. The latest technology will be used to reinforce the regulation and protect citizen’s rights. 

The adoption of second new regulation which based on Opinion 01/2018 of EASA is planned for the beginning of 2019.




List of Online Sources

List of Legislations

  • Briefing – March 2018: New Civil Aviation Safety Rules by European Parliament

  • Regulation no. 2018/1139

  • Opinion 01/2018 by EASA

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