By Nathanel Apter, UAS Engineer, Founder and CEO at UASolutions Nathanel.firstname.lastname@example.org
On Friday 25th of November 2022, the Federal Office of Civil Aviation Switzerland announced that the Reg. (EU) 2019/947 & 2019/945 will enter into force on the 1st of January 2023. Many operators and pilots believe that this regulation will bring an important layer of complexity for the Swiss industy. Switzerland has had very liberal laws for the usage of drones. However outside of this legal framework and especially for complex operations, no laws or standards are actually available to actually enable the industry.
Furthermore the current Swiss established procedures to deal with complex missions are based on swiss-only recognized best practices which do not have any european or international recognition.
But in practice what is the introduction of the EASA – European Union Aviation Safety Agency regulation and the revision of the DETEC Ordinance on Special Category Aircraft going to change for pilots, operators and manufacturers?
For drone manufacturers
For drone manufacturers, the EU regulation brings paramount advantages. In the newly established open, specific and certified category, the manufacturers have to put their product in conformity with class and CE marking in the open category, the Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) technical requirements in the specific category and the requirements of an appropriate Certification Specification in the certified category. Those processes can take some time and some ressources as well.
With the EU Regulation, such an investment from a Swiss company is going to be rewarded by a Certificate of Conformity, an EASA Design Verification Report, or a Type Certificate which grants the manufacturers the access to the entire EU market. “Manufacturers and operators like RigiTech, but also individual pilots will be able to produce technology and services for a much bigger market with virtually the same conditions and regulatory frame while increasing the level of safety.” said Alejandro del Estal Herrero RigiTech’s Head of Operations. For manufacturers, the EU Regulation will be the opportunity to access the entire European Market.
For drone operators
For the drone operators, the EU Regulation requires also an important investment to continue their operations. A lot of operations as photogrammetry, photography or inspection will fall within the scope of the specific category which is linked for low and medium risk operation with some processes, a maintenance, a structured organisation and well defined roles and responsabilities. For more complex missions even a Safety Management System or some authority audits could be required.
Dominique D. Peter, the President of the Swiss Federation of Civil Drones says that:” The application of the EU Rules puts higher barriers to entry on the UAS market. Regulation was actually easing the business with drones in Switzerland up to this date”.
For some smaller operators, it may not be cost effective to continue those missions under the new regulatory regime. We may so see some level of market consolidation around specialised actors able to deal with the compliance costs. The drone operators as well will see an EU recognition of their compliance efforts with a swiss authorisation easing the process of authorisation in other EU country using the Article 13 of Reg. (EU) 2019/947 on cross-border operations.
For drone pilots
For drone pilots, the situation will get more regulated. The pilots in the open category will have to perform the A1/A3 training and/or the A2 and the specific category will see a whole range of specific training depending on the use case that will have to be compliant with the Acceptable Means of Compliance of EASA. The training for drones will so get increasingly specialized and will as well have a european recognition.
This change will not occur at once. The introduction is planned for the 1st of January 2023 but operators will have till the 31st of August 2023 to actually obtain an operational authorisation after (EU) Reg. Article 11 if this is required. After this date operators will have to fly in the open, the specific and certified category.
Timeline of the major dates for the entry into force of the Reg (EU) 2019/947 and 2019/945
From September on, the transition provisions of the EU Regulation will apply. Those reduce the possibility for operators to fly in the open category without class marking considerably after the 31. of December 2023 (only in A3 for drones heavier than 250 g). The Swiss FOCA standard scenarios (Swarms, BVLOS, Spraying) will be concerned since those scenarios cannot be authorised anymore after that date. The operators will have to either use a European standard ccenario, a pre-defined risk assessment or to write a SORA for their remote flights. The existing authorisation under a swiss standard scenario can remain valid till the 31. of December 2025.
Advantages of the new EU Regulation
One of the main advantage of the EU Regulation is the european recognition which will allow Swiss manufacturers, operators and pilots to more easily access the EU market. The harmonized european norms may also bring a recognition in other non-EASA countries using a risk-based approach as the United Kingdom, Canada or Austalia.
A further advantage which is also hidden behind the regulation is the smoothing of the regulatory difference between the Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) and Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) use cases. So far the regulatory framework was making a rather strong differentiation between both operational regimes while the new law classifies all use cases over people in the specific category. This will further ease the possibility for companies doing visual line of sight operations to actually go to beyond visual line of sight flights if needed since the risk assessment and compliance evidence for those two operational scenarios will have some level of similarities.
With the introduction of the EU law, new requirments and solutions will appear. For instance, remote identification will be required and so remote identification manufacturers will have a market in Switzerland as well. Furthermore the U-Space law will also enable a market for U-Space Services Providers in Switzerland. The U-Space Regulation will further ease the access to airspace for drone operators that intend to have scalable operations.
Swiss companies will also be able to become notified bodies in the context of the drone class marking, qualified entities for the evaluation of operational authorisation documents and will have the possibility to obtain a Light UAS Operator Certificate with increased authorisation privileges. So it is safe to assume that the EU regulation will create a lot of new business opportunities in Switzerland.
Last but not least, with the introduction of the mandatory registration of operators and remote identification, the general public will see a much better organized drone sector which is going to increase social acceptance and answer data protection concerns for drones. Safety and professionalism will improve the public perception of pilots and operators.
Disadvantages of the new EU Regulation
The main disadvantage of the EU Regulation is the increase in requirements over populated area for drones lighter than 30 kg in VLOS. This indeed will be a major disadvantage over the current regulation. Operations of drones up to 30 kg over populated areas will fall in the specific category medium or even high risk which is going to make those operations more complex and expensive.
Another disadvantage which is worth mentionning is that the regulation (EU) 2019/947 does not yet have all the guidance material and acceptable means of compliance needed in order to make the operations possible which were possible without authorisation in Switzerland to this date. This is why it is of paramount importance for the swiss industry to use the learnings of the past years in the upcoming consultations for EASA Acceptable Means of Compliance and Guidance Material. Those learnings are a chance to build a strong and proportionate future regulation on this topic.
With the new regulation, compliance will become an important topic for companies in the drone sector. Safety will increase for everyone, however the costs and ressources needed to run such businesses will also increase. Careful consideration of regulation and compliance should now take place before launching a new drone business in Switzerland.