On 1st January 2021, the new EU Regulation for drone operators (2019/947) became applicable and replaced all the existing national rules referring to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The purpose of this Regulation is to create a harmonised drone market in Europe and increase the safety level of drone operations. Both existing and new drone pilots must comply with the new UAS Regulation to conduct their drone operations.
Here are some of the most relevant questions on the new legislative scenario.
1 Who is the new EASA UAS Regulation for?
The Regulation is for operations of unmanned aircraft systems as well as for personnel, including remote pilots and organisations involved in those operations. Unmanned aircraft system means any aircraft operating or designed to operate autonomously or to be piloted remotely without a pilot on board, but also its system and all the other equipment used to control and operate it, such as the command unit, the possible catapult to launch it and others.
2 Does the Regulation distinguish between leisure and commercial drone operations?
The regulation doesn’t distinguish between leisure or commercial activities, hence this criterion does not determine the category of the UAS operations.
3 What are the categories introduced by the European UAS regulation?
Considering the weight and specifications of the drone and the operation it is intended to undertake, the UAS Regulation distinguishes three categories:
- Open category: it has the lowest risk level. Drones fly under a direct visual line of sight (VLOS); the maximum flight altitude allowed is 120 m, while the mass of the drone may not exceed 25 kg.
- Specific category: drones can also fly beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS), so outside the pilot’s field of view. This category does not set any mass or altitude limitation. Also, it includes all drone operations that do not meet the requirements of the Open category.
- Certified category: it is reserved for high-risk operations (such as passenger transport or the carriage of dangerous goods) and operations with drones flying over groups of people.
4 What are the requirements if my drone operation falls under the ‘Open’ category?
The Open category comprises three subcategories: flight operations over people (A1), near people (A2) and far from people (A3). In all three cases, no prior authorisation to fly is needed. However, some operational restrictions apply to each subcategory. In particular:
- If your drone operation is included in the subcategory A1, you can fly everywhere, except over assemblies of people.
- If your drone operation is included in the subcategory A2, you can fly in urban environments, however keeping a safe distance from any uninvolved people (as a rule this distance must never be less than 5 m).
- If your drone operation is included in the subcategory A3, you cannot operate in urban environments and need to keep the drone at least 150 m from residential, commercial or industrial areas. In addition, you can only operate in areas where no uninvolved people are present.
In any case, you are not allowed to fly in areas where the state has forbidden the flight of drones.
5 What are the requirements if my drone operation falls under the ‘Specific’ category?
If your drone operation falls under the Specific category, you need to perform a risk assessment and comply with the operational limitations set out by EASA. Then, you can obtain the authorization to fly from the National Aviation Authority. EASA recommends performing the UAS risk assessment following the SORA methodology (Specific Operational Risk Assessment) developed by JARUS. If you need help, try SAMWISE, the web-based tool performing the UAS risk assessment based on the SORA methodology.
6 What are the requirements if my drone operation falls under the ‘Certified’ category?
If you operate in the Certified category you need a specific license; in addition, your drones must be certified for their airworthiness and the safety oversight be performed by the relevant National Aviation Authorities and EASA.
7 How can I become a drone pilot?
If you operate in the Open category, you can just follow online courses on certified platforms. If you operate in the Specific category you need to comply with the competency requirements set out in the operational authorisation by the competent authority or in the standard scenario defined by EASA.
8 How old do I have to be to pilot a drone?
The minimum age for drone pilots in the Open and the Specific category is 16. However, member States may lower the minimum age following a risk-based approach and only on the territory of that their State.
9 Do I need to install any new safety device on my drone?
Depending on the category and on the operation, you might need to equip your drone with some specific functions such as Electronic Identification and Geo Awareness. If necessary, the first will allow the authorities to remotely identify the owner of your drone. The Geo Awareness system, instead, will notify if your aircraft is entering prohibited or high-risk areas.
10 Do I need insurance?
All operators using drones with a weight above 20 kg are required to have insurance, but this limit can be lowered by national regulations.