“Yes, but….” Drone manufacturers give cautious welcome to EASA drone rulebook

Drone Manufacturers Alliance Europe (DMAE), the organisation representing the manufacturers of the majority of civilian drones, has welcomed the publication of the European Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) Opinion on “Unmanned aircraft system operations in the ‘open’ and ‘specific’ categories” which ticks a crucial milestone in creating an EU rulebook for drones, according to the organisation.

“DMAE applauds the effort put forward by EASA to finalise Europe’s first common rulebook for drones. This is an important step so the European drone market can operate with a common regulatory framework for the businesses, governments, researchers and other organisations eager to realise the benefits of safe drone use,” said Paula Iwaniuk of DMAE. The EASA Opinion follows the political agreement reached on the EASA Basic Regulation in December 2017. The Opinion is divided into two sections to covering the product and technical requirements as well as operations and registration, respectively. “The EASA Opinion contains useful concepts and requirements. But many of these remain vague or have been added in the last minute without much discussion or direction, such as drone lights. There is a risk that this lack of clarity could block our product development process,” explained Iwaniuk.

The development of a consumer drone can take up to three years, says DMAE. On average, drones are used for approximately 10 years. The draft rules, which are expected to enter into force in less than one year, currently only foresee a transition period of two years. The near-final rules currently do not include a grandfathering regime for older drones, which will represent a significant portion of the market. Similarly, a potential retrofit is economically unsustainable for operators.

Iwaniuk noted: “Already today, drone manufacturers offer many features which will now become a legal requirement. Manufacturers need reassurances that our solutions meet expectations, and our operators need clarity that they can continue to fly their drones. This needs to be managed.” DMAE hoped the soon-to-be adopted EASA Basic Regulation would include simple, risk- and evidence-based rules in line with international standards. Unfortunately, it missed the mark by replacing a simple weight threshold for registration with a new, difficult-to-measure kinetic energy threshold, says the organisation. “Overall, there is a high degree of uncertainty when it comes to the outlined technical requirements. Without more precision and clarity, they will be interpreted differently by each stakeholder. We are missing key pieces to the puzzle: standards and methods of compliance” emphasised Iwaniuk. “EASA has done its best to provide some clarity by correlating it to an 900g weight threshold, but the testing to determine the transfer of 80 Joules of terminal kinetic energy on impact with a person is extremely challenging. We hope to learn more in the coming months,” said Iwaniuk.

The organisation says the intention of the Open Category is to not have CAA involvement in any approval for low-risk operations, and for the majority of drone subcategories that is the case. But DMAE is disappointed that an in-person theoretical test is necessary for the A2 subcategory for flights which take place away from uninvolved people. “This constitutes an excessive cost burden that does not fit the definition of the Open Category. All tests in the Open Category ought to be online, automated tests,” commented Iwaniuk.

“There are several important pieces to the EU drone rulebook that will be in the hands of the 28 Member States – registration platforms, determining no fly zones, providing manufacturers with data for maps and designating competent authorities. It makes us nervous because we don’t want to have 28 different approaches or interpretations,” said Iwaniuk. While the Basic Regulation did not achieve an EU-wide drone registration system, Member States need to create digital, user-friendly, interoperable and cost-efficient platforms. “An operator in Belgium should be able to take their drone and easily use it in Slovakia.” Importantly, DMAE asks Member States to hold off with individual temporary solutions until the EU drone rules process ends. Not only will this increase confusion and non-conformity, it’s a burden for both industry and operators. Harmonisation is crucial to create and maintain an EU market for drones.

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