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European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Proposes Risk-Based Approach

In March 2015, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) proposed a risk-based regulatory approach for the operation of UAS in Europe. In its “Concept of Operations,” EASA proposes three operational categories with increasing associated risk and regulatory requirements—Open, Specific, and Certification. EASA’s risk-based approach echoes the FAA’s proposed rules for small UAS (sUAS) and the Concept of Operations suggests that EASA’s Open category is similar to the FAA’s proposed sUAS rules. But, EASA goes further than the FAA’s proposed sUAS rules to provide a more comprehensive regulatory vision for UAS integration.

Developed to simultaneously achieve two main goals—(1) safe and proportionate integration and acceptance of UAS in the existing aviation system and (2) fostering an innovated and competitive European UAS industry—EASA’s regulatory approach considers the risks of mid-air collisions with manned aircraft, harm to people, and damage to property, in particular critical and sensitive infrastructure. The Concept of Operations recognizes the need to protect other public interests, such as privacy and security, but leaves such issues to be addressed at the national level.

Similar to the FAA, EASA classifies a set of low-risk operations that will not be subject to significant regulation—the Open category. Proposed limitations similar to the FAA’s proposed sUAS rules include a visual-line-of-sight (VLOS), limited altitude not exceed approximately 500 feet, prohibited operations in specified reserved areas (e.g., airport), and limited aircraft mass. EASA does envision flights over non-participating people (excluding crowds) if the UAS is compliant with industry standards, an operation that the FAA has only considered (without proposing regulations) for “micro” UAS under 4.4 pounds. Those looking to operate over crowds in the US should submit comments to the FAA during its sUAS rulemaking process, addressing EASA’s proposed concept of operations and the “micro” UAS concept.

For increased risks and operations that do not meet the Open category characteristics, EASA calls for additional limitations or greater UAS/operator capabilities—the Specific category. EASA suggests that a limited regulatory approach with an operator’s self-assessment component is appropriate—involving the operator’s own safety risk assessment (involving airworthiness, operating procedures and environment, and personnel and organization competence) and identification of mitigating measures, followed by the National Aviation Authority’s review and approval, and conferral of an “Operations Authorisation.”

EASA recognizes that operations with even greater risk may warrant a regulatory framework analogous to the manned aircraft regulatory framework—the Certified category, including maintenance by approved organizations, licensed pilots, organizational approval, and air traffic system assessments. Envisioning operations with an unmanned Airbus A320s or Boeing 737s, EASA believes appropriate regulations would include a type certificate covering environmental, airworthiness and noise standards. Certification specifications would cover different UAS configurations, but EASA is also considering an independent approval process.

EASA’s risk-based approach is similar to the regulatory approach taken by the FAA, particularly for sUAS. But, the FAA may be able to draw from EASA’s Concept of Operations as the FAA begins to integrate higher risk operations into U.S. airspace and moves away from regulating operations by exemption.