Commercial aviation is strongly regulated and since drones and aircrafts will share the same airspace, drone technology needs to be integrated into these aviation frameworks. In other words, the (drone) rules that are needed to use the drones’ full potential today are still missing. The risk-oriented approach in the EU and USA (as well as many other countries), is ideally suited for defining new, more advanced and complex missions in this airspace. To do this, operational, airworthiness and personnel standards are required. There are some standards available (e.g. JARUS SORA) but we need more, especially in the field of airworthiness. Airworthiness means the measure of a drone’s suitability for safe flight, which is an essential part of drone certification.
To make BVLOS and OOP possible, both aviation authorities are currently working hard on airworthiness standards, but also on remote identification rules to enable the integration of drones into the airspace.
In this field, the initial steps were done by the FAA and EASA at the end of 2020. The EASA published their “special conditions” for the issuance of a type certificate for drones up to 600kg to be in compliance with drone operation under medium risk in the “specific category” of (EU) 2019/947. The FAA showed a different approach by publishing airworthiness criteria of 10 different drone types with max weight of 40kg (89pounds) – e.g. Wingcopter model 198, Zipline model Sparrow or Percepto model 2.4.
The new remote ID rule of the FAA requires modifying drone hardware to enable the permanent broadcast of identification and location of the drone and control station. When the drone is intended to be operated in the US airspace this means that every drone manufacturer needs to add a Remote ID Broadcast Module within 18 months after the rule`s effective date (which was December 28th, 2020). It’s worth mentioning here that ADS-B transponders are not allowed as broadcast devices to make a clear distinction from manned air traffic.
The terms “airworthiness” and “remote ID” are not relevant for end users – however, it is a challenging task for manufacturers to comply with these new requirements. As mentioned above, these requirements are only applicable for complex missions – all other, less complex types of mission do not have to comply with these requirements.
Are these standards sufficient to create a certain level of safety? Aviation experts say that drone regulation and standards need to be supplemented with safety culture. A management system has a human-centered focus and involves all stakeholders who participate to operate drones. Such a system is called Safety Management System (SMS), which puts a focus on procedures (e.g. training, occurrence reporting), as well as on safety and error management culture. An initial guide for the drone industry has already been published by the National Business Aviation Association. The implementation of such a management system can be simple or very complex – depending on the size and nature of the company. SMS will play an important role in drone operation. The EASA has already integrated the SMS into the (EU) 2019/947 rule as a prerequisite for the approval of a Light Unmanned Certificate (LUC).