Remotely piloted aircraft are one type of unmanned aircraft. All unmanned aircraft, whether remotely piloted, fully autonomous, or combination thereof, are subject to the provisions of Article 8 titled Pilotless Aircraft of the Convention on International Civil Aviation
UA operations will involve stakeholders familiar with aviation as well as many who are not. It is important to include theses stakeholders from the beginning when developing the UAS regulations. Their early involvement will ensure that the regulations appropriately address the needs of these groups while also serving to educate them on expectations and what is feasible.
The rapid growth of the UAS industry has resulted in significant and multiple challenges for States to deliver their mandate and meet the needs and expectations of the industry. Such challenges include:
Risk management is a proactive activity that looks at the risks associated with identified hazards and assists in selecting actions (or mitigations) to maintain an appropriate level of safety when faced with these hazards. The continuous improvement and maintenance of a high-quality aviation safety programme requires ongoing management of risk. Risk management integrates risk analysis and assessment into Civil Aviation Authorities planning and decision-making processes.
States will want to make key policy, technical, regulatory and programming decisions for UAS operations. A determination will need to be made as to what extent UAS regulatory proposals will need to adapt to conventional aviation rules, parameters, procedures and practices. Consideration should be given to whether existing standards and regulations which govern the operation of manned aircraft can be leveraged, while also addressing the specific and unique needs and characteristics of UAS. When building a regulatory framework for UAS, it is important to ensure that the new regulations do not contradict existing aviation regulations.
Several States and organizations are taking an operations-centric risk management approach to their regulatory development efforts which may provide the desired safety levels without the need for overly prescriptive regulations.
States will want to determine whether the initial objective is to accommodate UAS operations on a case-by-case basis after the analysis of the risk assessment, or whether the intent is to allow the routine use of either a limited number or all categories of UAS into the aviation system or perhaps a combination of multiple approaches. States may also consider UAS regulation that other States have developed/adopted and assess their suitability. An iterative and incremental approach may be beneficial for an industry that is not mature and may evolve differently than expected by the civil aviation authority. This approach may also provide the UAS industry an incentive to professionalize itself and create a safety culture within the aviation sector. As part of the safety culture, data collection that can be used to further understand and mitigate hazards should be set as an objective.
A risk-based approach to regulating UAS could, for example, set out the regulatory requirements based on the size of the aircraft, the location, and the complexity of the operation. In order to initially allow the use of UAS to operate in the aviation system, States could limit the type of permissible operations to certain lower risk operations while maintaining flexibility to accommodate future technologies e.g. focus on VLOS operations which encompasses the majority of operations and technological abilities of UAS today. Consideration will also need to be given to whether all airspace users will be subject to the same set of regulations, or will exemptions or exceptions be provided to those providing public benefits and services such as police agencies, border surveillance, fire fighters, paramedic services and search and rescue.
Once the issues associated with higher risk UAS operations are resolved, regulations could be expanded to cover a wider range of operations. For example, a proposed framework for operations in higher risk areas may require pilot licensing, compliance with aircraft marking and registration requirements, coordination with air traffic control, aircraft design or airworthiness standards.
When drafting regulations, States will want to consider the use of performance-based regulations intended to achieve a desired outcome. A performance-based regulation describes the result that is expected instead of how the result should be achieved. Alternatively, prescriptive minimum safety standards may be needed to address certain requirements e.g. frequency spectrum that may be used for command and control. The regulations can be well-balanced combining prescriptive rules and performance based rules. States will want to conduct an internal assessment of the impact of the proposed regulatory requirements on their civil aviation program. This includes oversight, compliance, and enforcement of the safety requirements, the financial impact of certifications (e.g. remote pilot licences, operations certificates) and database administration (e.g. aircraft marking and registration). The desired outcome of safe UAS operations is achieved by clear, predictable, and enforceable regulatory requirements underpinned by strong public outreach, education and enforcement.
States may establish clear definitive rules to determine activities/operations that need to be authorized and that will not require direct permission from the regulatory authority. The CAA can apply specific conditions and limitations to authorizations that pertain to those specific operations (see Categorization).
Before drafting regulations, it will be necessary to document the underlying assumptions and determine the scope of “what’s in” and “what’s out” of the regulatory program. The first question is whether UA are defined as “aircraft” under the State’s regulatory structure. Next, consideration should be given to subjects such as: indoor operations, tethered operations, automated versus autonomous operations, categories of aircraft based on weight or kinetic energy combined with mass and airspeed and classifications of UAS operations based on risk environment e.g. VLOS versus BVLOS operations and rural versus densely populated area operations.
In addition, States may want to consider a base threshold category that is considered low risk and might not be subject to aviation regulations. This would include decisions regarding what distinction, if any, needs to be made between recreational hobbyists and non-recreational professional operators and what the common risks are between the two groups.
A risk-based approach to regulating UAS could focus on two principal risks: the risk of a UA causing a fatality to persons or damaging property on the ground and the risk of collision between a UA and another airspace user in any phase of flight.
A risk assessment would need to take into account operational complexity factors, including the size of the aircraft, location, altitudes, airspace classification and complexity of the operation, day/night operations and mitigations that may be imposed. For example:
Mitigation measures may concern the UAS technology (conspicuity paint schemes or strobe lights for visibility), the remote pilot competencies, operational procedures or operator requirements (SMS, manuals etc.).
There are many UAS which pose limited risk to other airspace users as well as people and property on the ground. Attempting to have thorough regulatory involvement with this vast “low risk” category may lead to the regulatory authority being inundated with requests, thus not being able to regulate effectively and therefore resulting in more unauthorized operations.
The regulator may wish to establish and specify strict, pre-determined conditions under which these operations will be allowed. In addition, reports might be required from UAS operators for safety incidents.
The following is a sample of a categorization scheme that could be used to create a regulatory framework for UAS operations that starts with lower risk operations and moves to higher risk operations.
It is recommended that, Provided that operations are conducted within defined limitations (e.g. Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only, specified distances from aerodromes and people, maximum height above ground level (AGL), etc.), flights can take place with no authorization required by the regulatory authority. Examples of these specified operations may include the following:
This category of operation would require an operational authorization from an Aviation Authority prior to the flight(s) taking place; appropriate limitations/restrictions would be applied based on the type of operation, complexity of the UAS and the specific qualifications and experience of operating personnel. Approval for the operation would be based on analysis of a safety risk assessment and any mitigations employed to reduce any risks to an acceptable level. This category encompasses operations where the risk to persons being overflown is greater than what would be permitted in Category A, or involves sharing the airspace with other manned or unmanned aircraft, but is at a level below that where the ‘classical aviation approach’ would be warranted. This category of operations could, for example, consist of VLOS operations utilizing a low weight or low energy UA with negligible payload capacity. Remote pilots may require basic aviation knowledge and the UA could be subject to simple identification and reporting requirements especially prior to entering controlled airspace.
This category utilizes the traditional method of regulating manned aviation when the aviation risks increase to an equivalent level. Operations in this category are likely to be flown beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS), however portions of the flight (e.g. launch and recovery) may operate within VLOS. More stringent regulatory requirements would be required with a focus on operational limitations such as the establishment of airspace restrictions, altitudes, airspeed, proximity to aerodromes and congested/populated areas. Remote pilots may require basic aviation knowledge and the UA could be subject to simple identification and reporting requirements. This category of operations could include, with appropriate mitigations, BVLOS operations in more complex environments, such as within controlled airspace, over populated areas and at or near aerodromes. These operations would require significant risk mitigation measures, for example:
Regardless of the operations conducted the regulator has the responsibility to consider the potential risk to the wider aviation system as UA start to share airspace with traditional aircraft operations.
It is recommended that the operator complete a risk assessment for each type of proposed operation in order to mitigate risks when operating within Categories B or C. Standard scenarios could be provided to facilitate the risk assessment. There are several international groups working on standardized risk assessment processes which States may wish to adapt/adopt.
During the risk assessment, the following areas should be considered:
The proposed operational area, including, but not limited to: airspace, aerodromes, restricted areas (e.g. National Key Points, strategic installations, national parks or protected areas); Obstacles (buildings, infrastructure, power lines, towers, etc.) and populated areas including events.
Weather conditions – day, visual meteorological conditions. Is the flight to be conducted within VLOS?
The operator and/or remote pilot shall possess knowledge of the rules and restrictions for operations within their proposed respective category and possess an appropriate skill level commensurate with the proposed operation.
The remote pilot shall have sufficient knowledge of the UAS. Items to consider are:
The operator should have adequate insurance in the event of an incident or accident. Some States require a minimum third party liability insurance to be in effect for all UAS operations.