More and more types of unmanned aircraft are emerging. What are the main regulatory and safety-related issues to be dealt with? Is Europe well on track to meet this challenge?

Starting in 2019, Europe will have harmonised rules to operate UAS in the ‘open and specific’ categories, which are the smaller end of the market. The new rules will address safety and environmental aspects as well as security and privacy needs. The rules will address operational as well as technical aspects and include effective means for operators and their competent authorities to address safety risks when UAS are flying in non-segregated airspace together with manned aviation. For example, smaller ‘buy & fly’ drones will have to be operated only in visual line of sight (VLOS) and the pilot will be required to have a specific level of competence depending on the class of the drone. Drones that are operated in the open category will need to comply with technical requirements defined by European harmonised standards. Their presence in the airspace will have to be detectable locally by citizens with standard mobile terminals, e.g. mobile phones, and law enforcement authorities (such as police) will also be able to track drones to their operators. More complex operations such as beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), posing higher risks with regard to manned aircraft, will only be authorised on the basis of operational risk assessments. Adequate mitigation means it will have to be put in place by the operator and approved by the competent authority.

As far as large certified MALE-type RPAS are concerned, how confident are you that the 2020-2025 timeline set for the RPAS accommodation phase in the European ATM Master Plan can be met?

Here the key word is ‘accommodation’. By 2025, it is not certain that large RPAS will be routinely operated in all parts of the Single European Sky. However, it is very probable that there will be areas in which, under a certain number of pre-requisites, unmanned traffic can be operated in civil airspace. 

European armed forces have gained substantial expertise in operating large military RPAS which could help pave the way for integrating large RPAS in non-segregated European airspace. Does EASA intend to use this military experience as a blueprint for civil unmanned cargo aircraft? 

EASA is indeed cooperating with military stakeholders under the leadership of the European Defence Agency (EDA) on the development of a Concept of Operations (CONOPS) to accommodate military drones in certain categories of airspace and identify viable opportunities for the insertion of large military UAS in the European airspace. We expect this work, which relies largely on current operational experiences gathered by military operators, to be finalised by the end of the year. This can be used for all types of UAS flying in un-segregated airspace. As far as civil unmanned cargo aircraft are concerned, EASA has started to work on the appropriate set of regulations. As you can imagine, there will be other safety aspects to be taken into account besides integration in civil airspace!

The low-level airspace (‘U-Space’) is crucial for military aircraft, particularly helicopters. How are the views and interests of the military taken into account?

Low-level drone operations are of concern not only to military aircraft, but also to all sorts of operators who routinely fly below 1000ft. There are also other concerns such as the possible safety risk to third parties, especially in urban environments. We will take all these into careful consideration when looking at implementation regulations for the U-Space. 

A smooth integration of large certified RPAS into non-segregated European airspace will require good civil-military cooperation. To that end, a ‘Coordination Mechanism’ involving the Commission, EASA, SJU and EDA was established in 2016. How would you assess this cooperation so far?

Any mechanism enabling a dialogue between military and civil stakeholders is welcome. In particular, the articulation of a meaningful roadmap is essential in setting the right level of ambitions and expectations. It will also be increasingly necessary to have discussions at a more technical and operational level, and we welcome the coordination role played by EDA for the military side. From this perspective, the mechanism set up by the Commission is the right approach, but it needs to be complemented on the technical and operational side.

Patrick Ky

Patrick Ky became EASA Executive Director on 1 September 2013. Prior to leading EASA, Patrick Ky was in charge of the SESAR programme, Europe’s ATM modernisation programme. He also held different managerial positions in the French Civil Aviation Authority, in a consulting company and in Eurocontrol. In 2004, he joined the European Commission to work on SESAR

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