New EU drone regulations come into effect in 2021

With the USA adding regulations that would require remote identification on drones and relaxing the need for waivers on drone flights over people during the night, the European Union has also taken the holiday season to remind drone operators in the EU region of the new regulations that came into effect at the turn of the new year.

In promulgating the new rules, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) explained that the new rules do not distinguish between recreation and commercial drones, because “they adopt a risk-based approach, and as such, do not distinguish between leisure or commercial activities. They take into account the weight and specifications of the drone and the operation it is intended to undertake.”

Instead, the regulatory body divided the rules into three categories – the Open category, which according to EASA will cater for drone operations whose use is considered to be low risk, like leisure and low risk commercial activities, and whose operation require no prior authorisation before they take to the skies.

“This (Open) category is subdivided into three further subcategories called A1 (where you can fly over people but not too many people), A2 (where flight over people has be at least 50 metres above them and A3 (minimum distance above people at least 150 metres),” said EASA in a statement.

“The Specific category caters for riskier operations not covered under the Open category. To operate in this category, you, as drone operator, need an operational authorisation from your national aviation authority where they are registered, unless the operation is covered by a Standard Scenario.”

That authorisation will be granted once the drone operator satisfies the regulatory authorities with regard a safety risk assessment, which will determine the requirements necessary for safe operation of the drones. No drone will leave the ground in this category before authorisation by the national civil aviation authority.

The last category is the Certified category, whose safety risk is considered so high that certification of the drone operator and the aircraft is required to ensure safety, as well as the licensing of the remote pilots.

Said the EASA statement; “The ‘certified’ category caters for the operations with the highest level of risk. Future drone flights with passengers on board such as the air taxi, for example, will fall into this category. The approach used to ensure the safety of these flights will be very similar to the one used for manned aviation.

“For this reason, these aircraft will always need to be certified (that is, have a type certificate and a certificate of airworthiness), the UAS operator will need an air operator approval issued by the competent authority and the remote pilot is required to hold a pilot licence. Longer term, we expect that the level of automation of drones will gradually increase up to having fully autonomous drones without the need of the intervention of a remote pilot.”

See? The EU are already thinking ahead, having realised that the ongoing passenger drone trials being conducted all over the world mean it is only a matter of time before the world’s bid cities incorporate drone flights as part of urban air transport.

EASA has also exhorted drone operators to have their drone operations licenced in their respective countries once the new rules come into effect on December 31, 2020, and be well acquainted with the new regulations with regards to safety of operations, insurance and training.

The management of traffic for drones will be ensured through the U-space, an extension on the regulatory framework which creates and harmonises the necessary conditions for manned and unmanned aircraft to operate safely in the U-space airspace.

It is expected to be gazetted sometime this year.

EASA has made remarkable strides in setting drone regulations to all countries in the EU, as well as be applicable in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and the United Kingdom.

“It streamlines different processes and allows customers to travel from country to country without having to worry about different rules in different foreign locations,” said drone manufacturer DJI’s director of public policy Christian Struwe, in an interview with the BBC.


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