By Peter van Blyenburgh
The Current Situation
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly referred to as “drones”, embody the technological progress made in several key technology areas, and the constantly growing number of their potential applications holds the promise of supplying substantial societal benefits. The design, pro-duction, and the use of UAS, and the associated ecosystem, represent a sector with significant economic value and have the potential to create a wide variety of jobs in all 27 European Union (EU) Member States. The aforementioned prompted most EU Member States to create national UAS regulations and guidelines. However, these national approaches were not harmonised on the EU level.
Taking the aforementioned into consideration, the European Commission (EC), through the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), has developed, in cooperation with multiple stakeholders, the European Regulations 2019/947 and 2019/945, which are currently applicable in all EU Member States. This enormous effort has given the EU Member States a common & harmonized base and provided a common European market.
The EU Member States requested the EC to create common European regulation to facilitate this market.
In the context of UAS operations in the “Open” category [flight altitude: <400 feet/120 m; flight range: Visual Line-of-Sight (VLOS) operations], the European National Aviation Authorities (NAAs), in coordination with the EASA UAS Task Force, have actively addressed the issue of Remote Pilot training, and the required courses and examinations are now available online. The only remaining matters in this area are the harmonization and enlargement of the multiple choice questions (MCQ) databases, and a binding detailed syllabus.
UAS Operators in the “Specific” category [flight altitude: <400 feet/120 m; flight range: Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS)] will be required to employ Remote Pilots and Crew Members that must often be qualified in conformity with pan-European recognized proficiency “certificates”, in order to be able to operate in all EU countries. Addressing this matter requires a coordinated effort by UAS operators, recognized and/or designated training entities, subject matter experts, in coordination with NAAs and EC regulatory authorities. In addition, these entities should urgently address a significant number of issues in three domains:
- Standard scenarios (STS) and Predefined Risk Assessments [PDRA (S-)]
STS will become applicable in all EU Member States on 1st January 2024, but there are no training and examination guidelines available, and the model documents defined in the EU Regulation are not available (nor harmonized).
- Predefined Risk Assessments [PDRA (G-)] and Specific Operation Risk Assessment (SORA)
Additional endorsement modules for specific operational conditions (e.g. night flight, hilly environment, carriage of dangerous goods (DGs), flight over water, etc.), still have to be produced.
Note: Those currently published in the EU Regulations are not sufficiently detailed.
- Instructors, Examiners & Examination
The roles of these professionals and their associated responsibilities, as well as their related training and qualification requirements, still have to be determined.
A common secure EU question database for the examination of Remote Pilots in the “Specific” category, and available in all EU languages, does not exist. This database should be managed by an independent entity, be regularly updated, and be accessible to all nationally qualified examiners in all EU countries. It is a prerequisite for certificate equivalence throughout the EU.
The aforementioned has not taken place. Unfortunately, the Task Force, initiated by EASA to this effect, did not receive an appropriate mandate, nor adequate means. Consequently, the harmonization of the national regulation implementation approaches remained at the initiative of the EU Member States.
In summary, the operational documents and processes defined in the EU Regulations (e.g. training and examination syllabi and guidelines, progress booklets, assessment reports, etc.) are not available, nor harmonized at EU level. This is obviously not only the case for the “Specific” category, but also for the “Certified” category, which includes UAS for the transport of freight & passengers.
The Resulting Situation
As things currently stand, none of the UAS Operators in the EU will be able to be compliant with the EU Regulations on 1 January 2024, and the EU UAS market will not be able to develop in the “Specific” category (which holds the largest near-term promise for the EU UAS industry).
In response to this situation, EASA created, in November 2022, the UAS Technical Body (TeB). The representatives of the NAAs of all 27 EU Member States are members of the UAS TeB. Furthermore, it was decided to set up a working group to address matters pertaining to flight crew training in the “Specific” category.
The UAS TeB Working Group on Remote Pilot Training is currently defining the strategy (roadmap), work plan & timeline, and the desired deliverables. The UAS TeB Working Group on Remote Pilot Training will only be able to tackle the work at hand if it receives substantial inputs from the European UAS industrial community. Furthermore, one should remember, that the working group’s work plan must comply with a very short timeline (implementation in January 2024).
The current situation, if not rapidly corrected, will have a negative impact in a number of areas:
- a) Safety Risk Assessment of Flight Operations
The absence of the necessary operational documents and processes will result in:
- Making it impossible for Qualified Entities, Notified Bodies and Designated Entities to make assessments based on an EU-harmonized basis;
- Unnecessary pressure on the National Aviation Authorities in the EU;
- None of the EU Member States being able to meet the Regulation Implementation deadline of 1 January 2024;
- Inequality between UAS operators in the different EU Member States.
- b) Remote Pilot Certificate Equivalence
The absence of a common EU question database for Remote Pilot (“Specific” category) examination in all EU languages will result in: Inequality of Remote Pilot competences.
- c) Free Circulation of UAS Services in the EU
Due to the absence of recognized pan-European proficiency “certificates”, the free circulation of UAS operators and remote pilots in the EU will be impossible.
Note: This situation is in total contradiction to the established EU principal of free flow of services.
- d) “Specific” Category Market Development
Due to points a, b & c above, the development of the flight operations market in the “Specific” category will be impossible.
- e) Airspace Safety
Remote pilots in the “Specific” category in all EU countries will not have an equivalent level of theoretical knowledge & practical piloting skills, which can have a negative impact on airspace safety.
- f) Micro-companies, SMEs & SMIs (Operators)
The majority of UAS operators in the EU are Micro-companies or SMEs/SMIs – If the current situation is not rapidly resolved, many will not be able to survive.
- g) Micro-companies& SMEs & SMIs (Manufacturers)
UAS in the “Specific” category is where EU producers have the possibility to make a difference at the global level, in the competition with Chinese and American UAS manufacturers and operators – If the current situation is not resolved rapidly, their production & finances will suffer.
- h) Job Creation
The projected job creation in the UAS domain (“Specific” category) will not take place.
- i) Economic Growth
The projected economic growth in the UAS domain (“Specific” category), will not be achieved.
- j) Societal Benefits
The projected societal benefits supplied by UAS will not become reality.
- k) Investment
The motivation for industry and investors to invest in the EU UAS domain (“Specific” category) will be eroded.
- l) UAS market development
The adoption of UAS for new applications in the private & public sectors will be limited.
This article is available in most European languages.
Call for participation
UAS Operators & Remote Pilots, as well as relevant subject matter experts, are invited to join USE and participate in WG 2205-1, and to contribute to addressing the problems indicated above.
About USE & Working Group 2205-1
United Systems Europe (USE) is a non-profit association registered in The Netherlands that focuses on the interests of UAS Operators & Remote Pilots. In view of the critical situation for UAS operators, and taking into account the limited resources of the national aviation authorities, USE has initiated the Working Group (WG) 2205-1 on Training, Qualification & Examination for Remote Pilots, Instructors & Examiners in the “Specific” operational category.
WG 2205-1 is a group of industry experts that conducts its work in total transparency, in coordination with all relevant stakeholders and regulatory authorities on national and EU level, without duplicating any existing efforts, and taking existing national resources and specificities into account.
WG 2205-1 projects to tackle, amongst others, the issues stated in the communication above by producing the documents required for common use across Europe. It also has the intent to create & administer a centralized online document library, as well as a listing of all nationally approved flight training organisations for the “Open” and “Specific” categories.