Beginner's Guide: EU drone regulations pt. 1

This guide aims to shed light on what the new EU regulations means for drone operators. With a special guest piece by AirHub, we explore how this harmonisation of the drone market will be a gamechanger for drones in the EU.

Avy pilots in France for test flights with Avy VTOL drone

While most of you were celebrating the end of 2020, the drone industry celebrated the EU Regulations 2019/947 and 2019/945 going into force! This may not mean much to you. To put it simply, new drone regulations came into force on December 31st and are applicable to the Member States of the EU and those of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). As a future with commercial drones becomes more evident, the purpose of the new regulatory framework is to ensure a harmonised drone market in the EU with the highest level of safety. Basically a huge milestone for drone operators like Avy, let us explain why. 

In this first part of the series we’ll dive into the new EU regulations that have come into effect and what that means for drone operators. With a mini interview with AirHub’s co-founder Stephan about the importance of their role in the safe integration of drones into airspace. 

Harmonising the EU drone market 

The purpose of these new regulations surrounding drones aims at creating a harmonised drone market in the EU, as well as facilitating the enforcement of one's privacy rights while addressing security and environmental concerns. As discussed during our safety series on safe & reliable operations, the EU has transitioned from a rule to a risk based approach. This means the operator must have assessed the risks of a mission and undergone numerous technical and operational checks, which can be done using the SORA (Specific Operations Risk Assessment) methodology. Check out our safety series on the SORA framework, to find out more about how we implement it in Avy’s design, and keep reading for AirHub’s perspective on the topic. 

With regards to the new regulatory framework, it will introduce three categories of operations (open, specific, and certified) according to the level of risks involved. A different regulatory approach is adopted for each category. 

  • Open: low risk category refers to operations which are classified as low-risk and thus, no authorisation is required before starting a flight. Under this category, operations must be in the visual line of sight (VLOS) and their altitude must be below 120m.
  • Specific: this category is relevant for Avy and includes riskier operations, where an Operational Authorisation is required from the National Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) before starting the operation. Another possibility to operate in the Specific Category is to get approval of a Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC) which grants several privileges to the UAS operator, such as independence in authorising its own operations. Here, the drone operator must conduct a safety risk assessment, using a standardised method - like the SORA - in order to obtain such authorisation. Operations involving drones of more than 25kg and/or which are operated beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) typically fall under the 'specific' category. Being able to fly BVLOS is so important to Avy and the type of missions we do with our customers in the healthcare logistics and first response sectors. It  gives them the flexibility to fly further, making the drone more accessible to reach more people in need. For a clearer understanding of how this works in practice, see how our partners from the Medical Drone Service have been setting up a drone corridor for test flights between 2 hospitals in The Netherlands for emergency medical deliveries. 
  • Certified: this category relates to high-risk operations, where certification of the drone operator and aircraft are required, together with the licensing of the remote pilots, as for the Specific category. Safety oversight will be performed by the relevant National Aviation Authorities and EASA. The authorities are working hard to properly define the standards, which will become applicable to Avy in the future whenever we are to transport ‘dangerous goods’ like contaminated samples for example. 

With these categories, each EU member state will be able to define ‘zones’ to restrict the access of certain areas of their airspace as well as relax the conditions in a given area. On top of this, ‘U-space’ is a framework currently being developed to guarantee safe drone operations and help with harmonising Unmanned Traffic Management. 

USPACE and UTM for VTOL drones
U-Space diagram

Basically, U-Space is a set of new procedures aimed towards supporting safe, efficient, and secure access to airspace for a large number of drones. It ensures the smooth operation and traffic of drones in all operating environments and in all types of airspace. U-space will harmonise the necessary conditions for manned and unmanned aircraft to operate safely, focusing on preventing collisions and mitigating air and ground risks. To put it into perspective, drones will be able to communicate with Air Traffic Control just as easily as a Boeing 747!

U-Space works hand-in-hand with the broader Single European Sky (SES) framework – a European Commission initiative launched back in 2004 for air traffic management across the EU, to reduce fragmentation of the airspace over Europe, with the aim to improve the performance of air traffic management in terms of capacity, safety, efficiency, and the environment.

Avy VTOL drone amsterdam urban flight fast
Avy Aera flying by NEMO, Amsterdam

Safely integrating airspace with AirHub

To gain a deeper insight into the role of unmanned traffic management and how exactly it helps to guarantee safe drone operations, we asked an expert’s opinion on the topic: Stephan van Vuren, Airhub’s co-founder and drone consultant. 

What does AirHub do and what is AirHub’s role during operations? 

AirHub develops a Drone Operations Centre with which you can plan, execute and manage your drone operations in a safe, legal and efficient manner. The Drone Operations Centre consists of a web-dashboard and mobile applications for iOS and Android. The mobile applications can be used by drone operators in the field and the web dashboard even allows you to remotely operate drones from the office over 4G and 5G. Recently we also released an online SORA tool that supports operators in applying for an operational authorisation within the EASA specific category. With our consultancy services we further support operators by obtaining their operational authorisation by writing their Operations Manual and by providing online training for the Specific Category. 

Our Drone Operations Centre is currently used worldwide by thousands of drone operators from various industries. With our consultancy services, we currently focus on Europe, where we work with operators that will now fly in the EASA Specific Category. 

What do the new EU regulations coming up December 31st mean for AirHub?

For us the EU regulations will be a big game changer. The fact that all European countries now have the same set of rules enables us to accelerate our international expansion and to better support drone operators in the EU. We are also looking forward to the common EU framework for Unmanned Traffic Management so that drone operators can use the Drone Operations Centre to receive clearance for the flights through one single interface in all countries. 

Will the regulations help with accelerating AirHub’s role with integrating drones into manned airspace? 

It definitely will, especially the possibility to operate Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) under these regulations will support that. We are also working closely with various partners in Europe to accelerate the integration of manned and unmanned aircraft through trials for Detect & Avoid and Remote Identification. 

What does your SORA tool do and how will it facilitate the lives of drone operators?‍

The Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) is the risk analysis methodology that is at the core of the EASA Specific Category. Performing a SORA can be a time consuming effort however and at AirHub we noticed that operators and CAA’s were struggling with this. Also we noticed that, once they had gone through the SORA process, it did not provide them with a clear overview of requirements they had to fulfil to perform the intended drone operation. That is why we have developed the online SORA Tool. The SORA Tool provides drone operators with a custom report that contains all Operational Safety Objectives (OSO) and additional requirements that are applicable to their drone operation and supports operators with fulfilling the requirements for their crew, operations manual, drone, services and equipment. Operators can attach supporting documentation and references to the report and then easily apply for an Operational Authorisation or waiver at their CAA.

Anything else you’d like to add about AirHub and operating in the EU? 

We strongly feel that the EU regulations will mark a new era for the professional drone industry and are looking forward to continuing our partnerships with pioneers like Avy. And with the framework for drone service deliveries that EASA very recently released we expect that there are exciting times ahead for you. 

Exciting times indeed. This transition towards a risk based approach with stricter rules, yet harmonised for the EU, along with UTM operators like AirHub, will be vital in the success of safely integrating drones into manned airspace. But what does this mean for operators?