Published on August 30th, 2015 | by Jim Lee3
Introduction of a European Regulatory Framework for the Operation of Drones to proceed
On 25th August, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the European Union’s Authority in aviation safety, made available a Summary of its Proposals for the Introduction of a Regulatory Framework for the Operation of Drones based on the original document (A-NPA: Advanced Notice of Proposed Amendment to the rules) launched on 31st July 2015. EASA promotes the highest common standards of safety and environmental protection in civil aviation in Europe and worldwide and is the centrepiece of a new regulatory system which provides for a single European market in the aviation industry.
A Summary of the A-NPA, which contains all the proposals is in translation and will become available in the first week of September. This summary will assist in better understanding the A-NPA contents and procedure and will hopefully encourage participation in the consultative process. You can read the full A-NPA document here.
The Agency’s proposals represent a new regulatory approach for safely operating remotely piloted aircraft. It is a flexible, proportionate and risk based approach. In other words, safety requirements are in relation to the risk an activity poses to the operator and to third parties (e.g. general public). The greater the risk the higher will be the requirements. This is done in order to ensure there is no compromise in safety, but there is a flexible environment for this promising industry to grow.
The expiration date for comments on the proposals is 25th September 2015.
Current EU regulations require that drones (more correctly know as Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems or RPAS) above 150kg are regulated in a similar way to manned aircraft. Those below that weight are regulated by each member state of EASA as they see fit. In Ireland any person who wishes to operate a RPAS for commercial purposes must obtain a permission to fly and an aerial work permit from the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), before commencing operations in Irish airspace. The operation of RPAS in Irish airspace is subject to regulation by the IAA as set out in Aeronautical Notice O.63 and supporting guidance material contained in Operations Advisory Memorandum 02/12.
It is important to differentiate RPAS from model aircraft. ICAO and EASA define RPAS as: “Any aircraft and its associated elements, other than a balloon, kite or small aircraft which is intended to be operated with no pilot on board”. Whereas model aircraft are defined as: “Any small aircraft which is being used for the sole purpose of recreational flying”. However when a RPAS is used for recreational purposes, it must follow the same rules that are required for the operation of model aircraft as laid out in Rockets and Small Aircraft Order S.I. 25 of 2000.
Regardless of whether RPAS are to be used for commercial or for recreational purposes, like all other aircraft, users must obey the ‘Rules of the Air’, in the same way that motorists must obey the ‘Rules of the Road’. For RPAS operations, the primary rules in Ireland include the following:
Where and when a RPAS can be operated
- RPAS may only be used for operations over unpopulated areas up to a maximum of 400 feet above ground level (120 metres).
- RPAS may only be operated in visual meteorological conditions (VMC) only, which means:
- No night flying,
- No flying in or through cloud or fog, and
- You should be able to see the aircraft with your own eyes (rather than through its point-of-view camera) at all times.
Distance from the RPAS pilot
- The aircraft shall not be operated beyond Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) and not further than 500 metres from the point of operation;
- RPAS shall not be operated within 150 metres of any person, vessel, vehicle or structure not under the control of the aircraft operator; during take-off and landing, the aircraft must not be flown within 50 metres of any person, unless that person is under the control of the aircraft operator.
Where RPAS cannot be operated (except with the permission of IAA Flight Operations and permission from Air Traffic Control):
- Over built up or urban areas;
- Over an assembly of people on the ground nor closer than 150 metres laterally from such an assembly;
- Within controlled, segregated or restricted airspace;
- Within the confines of a congested area, such as a city, town or village;
- Over populous areas, such as other people’s back gardens, public parks or beaches, or sports grounds where there is a game in progress;
- Within an aerodrome traffic zone or closer than 8 kilometres (5 nautical miles) from an aerodrome boundary, whichever is the greater distance; and
- Within 2 kilometres from an aircraft in flight.
- The above is not an exhaustive and prospective users of RPAS should familiarise themselves fully with the relevant regulations.
Remember, if you intend to use an RPAS for commercial purposes, you must have a third party liability insurance policy covering the operation of the system which is acceptable to the IAA. Although this does not apply for recreational RPAS users, the IAA would strongly encourage such users should also secure third party liability insurance.
In the August 2014 print edition of Flying in Ireland, the IAA produced an interesting piece on this subject. The article is available here.
Currently there are about 4,000 RPAS in Ireland and they come in all sizes and price ranges. Smaller models can cost as little as €10, although larger amateur models are typically between €1,400 and €3,500, while commercial units can cost up to €70,000. In addition to safety, there are also security and privacy concerns that need to be addressed. While your neighbours may be intrigued at first, it won’t take long before they may protest as drones pass effortlessly over their garden walls, or are used to check out their businesses. The presence of a camera also raises privacy concerns. With Government, police, journalists and paparazzi all tempted by the enormous surveillance and data powers of drones; their use could easily raise serious opposition. However, as inaugural open day of the Unmanned Aircraft Association of Ireland (UAAI) held at Weston Airport on 21st August demonstrated, the spin offs from RPAS has enormous potential for Ireland. Getting the balance right will be essential to Ireland becoming a worldwide centre of excellence for RPAS technology.