Deep Blue and EASA set out SHEPHERD research goals to improve drone standards and regulations

Deep Blue has set out the aims of a new research project SHEPHERD, funded by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), whose purpose is to technically assess the suitability of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) standards to comply with the EU drone regulations.

The project team is currently working on the assessment of a first set of standards. This process will be completed in February 2023 and the first results will be reviewed with EASA’s experts and external advisors in a dedicated review meeting planned for March 2023. The first results will be published shortly after by the end of April. The activity will then continue with the assessment of a second set of standards.


In May 2022, SHEPHERD officially started with its kick-off meeting held at EASA premises in Cologne, Germany. The project is funded by EASA public contract “Horizon Europe Project: UAS standard” and will perform its research in the next two years. The main objective is to build upon the work performed by the AW-Drones project and complement the analysis previously performed to technically assess the suitability of drone standards. Indeed, the Horizon 2020 AW-Drones project supported the EU rulemaking process by identifying a set of technical standards possibly suitable to comply with existing regulations for drone operations.

Specifically, the AW-Drones project assessed the standards listed in the European UAS Standards Coordination Group (EUSCG) UAS Rolling Development Plan (U-RDP) with regard to maturity, coverage, cost of compliance, environmental impact, impact on EU industry competitiveness and social acceptance. The assessment, however, was limited to the scope of the standards and did not include the evaluation of the technical content to determine whether the standards are adequate to meet the safety objectives of the provisions of the related regulations.

SHEPHERD research project shall now complement the analysis carried out by AW-Drones with the technical assessment of the standards. The expected output is the identification of standard(s) recommended to be considered acceptable for each regulatory provision.


The European Commission, with the support of EASA, has developed an initial European regulatory framework for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The key elements of this regulatory framework are currently made of regulations (EU) 2019/945 and (EU) 2019/9471 laying down the requirements for UAS operations in the ‘open’, ‘specific’ and ‘certified’ categories of operation and regulation (EU) 2021/664 defining the requirements for the implementation of U-space.

The EU regulatory framework has been developed using a performance-based and technology-agnostic approach in which applicants may propose the means that best fit their needs to demonstrate compliance with the regulatory requirement. These means of compliance may be based on available industry standards and the concept applies to the mitigation means, operational safety objectives (OSOs) and requirements for containment that can emerge from a risk assessment carried out with the ‘Specific Operation Risk Assessment’ (SORA) methodology, to the requirements defined in the ‘Special Condition Light UAS’ and to the U-space requirements.

Since 2017, the European UAS Standards Coordination Group (EUSCG) has been developing the Rolling Development Plan for UASs (U-RDP), listing more than 800 standards developed by standardisation bodies worldwide. The aim of the U-RDP was to identify all standards potentially applicable to UAS operators and manufacturers to enable safe and secure operations.

In 2019, the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA) funded the AW-Drones project to complement the work of the EUSCG by providing a mapping of all the identified standards with relevant regulatory requirements related to SORA, U-space and SC-Light UAS.

The SHEPHERD project is based on the experience and the lessons learnt by the three key partners (Deep Blue, DLR and Euro-USC Italia) of AW-Drones during the three years of the project and will now continue the research in this field.

Consortium roles

The Consortium brings together 9 international partners, great experts in the drones’ domain:

1- Deep Blue (IT), which will be responsible for the overall project management and communication activities thanks to more than 10 years of experience in the field.

2- Wing Aviation Finland Oy (FI), which will be responsible for the Project Technical Lead and will lead the technical evaluation of the standards related to Safety, Development Assurance and UAS operations (including automation) and peer-review the evaluation of standards related to U-Space/ATM, DAA, Environmental Protection and CAW/Maintenance

3- Azur Drones (FR), which will be responsible for the assessment of standards related to Continuing AW (CAW)/Maintenance, Command, control and communication and Environmental protection

4- Michael Allouche (IL), who will lead the technical evaluation of standards related to Design & Airworthiness, provide support to Safety related ones and peer review the evaluation of standards related to HW/SW Development Assurance

5- German Aerospace Center (DLR) (DE), which will be responsible for the refinement of the methodology and will review the technical evaluation of standards related to environmental protection, training of personnel and partly UAS operations

6- Murzilli Consulting (CH), which will contribute to the development of the work methodology, the evaluation of the standards related to Safety and the development of the justification for non- acceptable industry standards

7- ANRA Technologies (UK), which will contribute to the technical evaluation of standards related to UTM U-Space, Vertiports and TeleCommunications (Command, Control and Communications) and provide supporting expertise for Design and Airworthiness in Expert or Review capacity

8- EuroUSC Italia S.r.l. (IT), which will lead the technical evaluation of the standards related to Training of Personnel and Oversight and will peer-review the evaluation of standards about Aerodromes/Vertiports.

9- Volocopter GmbH (DE), which will lead the technical evaluation of the standards related to Detect and Avoid (DAA) and Aerodromes / Vertiports, and will peer-review the evaluation of standards about Design & Airworthiness, Operations (including automation) and Environmental Protection


The work methodology proposed by SHEPHERD is composed of four steps:

  • Step #1 – Identify the standards in scope and the requirements against which the standards need to be assessed;
  • Step #2 – Categorise the requirements against which the standards in scope need to be assessed;
  • Step #3 – Assess with a 4-eye independent principle each proposed standard linked to objective-based requirements;
  • Step #4 – Summarise the assessment.

The assessment performed by the SHEPHERD project must be impartial, systematic and consistent. The methodology has therefore been designed in order to ensure a high level of confidence that the standard meets the safety objective of the provisions and that it can be implemented.


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