With the EASA regulatory framework that became effective on the first of January this year, UAS operations are divided into three categories. While most drone operators are currently focussing on the Open and Specific Category, many manufacturers and even some operators have started their preparations towards operating in the Certified Category.
What does the Certified category look like?
Operations within this category are classified as unmanned flights with the highest level of risk. So, this category will include all operations where the risk cannot be mitigated to an acceptable level with the risk based approach that is applied through the SORA in the Specific Category. These flights include for example passenger flights, flights over assemblies of people and UAS operations carrying dangerous goods this. These certified operations will be further divided into three types of operations by EASA:
International flights with certified cargo drones conducted under instrument flight rules, similar to current international cargo flights.
Operations in an urban or rural environment in U-Space airspace, which include cargo or passenger flights.
Drone operations with the presence of a pilot on board, comparable with the operations as mentioned in #2. Also, operations within Specific Assurance and Integrity Level (SAIL) V and VI of the Specific Category will fall into this category.
For all of the above mentioned operations, regulations will be very similar to the current legislative framework for manned aviation. So what can we expect?
Drones, or electrical Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft, always need a type certificate and a certificate of airworthiness. Furthermore, the operator will need an operational approval, and the remote pilot will need a pilot license. But regulations are not limited to the operator. Since operations need to be facilitated with drone airports, called vertiports, EASA will also set operational requirements for take-off and landing facilities.
What are the next steps?
First, EASA will come up with a opinion that will cover certification aspects for operation type #3 mentioned above, these will also be applicable to UAS operations in the high-risk categories (SAIL V and VI) within the Specific Category. EASA expects to publish this opinion at the end of 2022. Next, a second opinion will be published for both operation types #1 and #2, which is expected to be published at the beginning of 2024.
So It will take some time before a regulatory framework for Urban Air Mobility becomes effective, however, in the third quarter of 2025 (as planned by EASA) the regulations for an unmanned UAM flights will be be published and in effect. Until then, we have to validate the business case for UAM, the technical feasibility and think about the social impact that UAM will have on our society and take the necessary steps to become operational in about five years.
How we prepare ourselves for the Certified Category at AirHub
At AirHub, we are always improving our products and services. Our team of experienced software developers are working on several integrations to facilitate Certified Category operations in our Drone Operations Centre in the near future. Together with our partner Altitude Angel, for example, we are working on a full U-Space and UTM integration in both Europe and the United States. In the meantime our consultancy team is already gaining a lot of experience with drone operations in the Specific Category and is preparing for the first UAM flights in the Netherlands as part of the SESAR JU AMU-LED project. And as project manager of the Dutch Drone Delta we are working towards incorporating Urban Air Mobility as a positive, sustainable and accepted, social, economic and environmental form of mobility into society.