Civilian Use of Drones in the EU - European Union Committee Contents


Safety equivalence between manned aircraft and RPAS

82.  As we noted in Chapter 2, there are two broad categories of safety regulations in the aviation industry: regulations regarding airworthiness, which relate to the safety of the hardware of the aircraft; and operations regulations, which relate to the competence of the operator and compliance with rules of the air. The Communication states that the integration of RPAS into the European aviation system should be based on the principle that safety must not be compromised. RPAS operations should exhibit an "equivalent level of safety in comparison to manned aviation".[95] But the Communication also states that "The regulatory framework should reflect the wide variety of aircraft and operations, keep rules proportionate to the potential risk and contain the administrative burden for industry and for the supervisory authorities."[96] A key theme for the inquiry was to establish how these two requirements could be reconciled.

83.  What determines an "equivalent level of safety" between manned and unmanned aircraft is, in itself, open to interpretation. AeroSynergy Certification Ltd said one form of airworthiness equivalence between manned aircraft and RPAS would be, "the minimum required to maintain the tolerable accident rate equivalent to that of a manned aircraft of similar size or type." Even this was subject to qualification, since for "RPAS of a size and weight below that of known manned aircraft, such comparisons become more difficult."[97]

84.  NATS suggested an alternative view of operational equivalence, whereby RPAS could "comply with the appropriate airspace rules", and thus become "managed in such a way that they do not negatively impact other airspace users".[98] While this form of operational equivalence is applicable to large RPAS, which would fly in non-segregated airspace and use air traffic management services, it could not apply to small RPAS, which tend to fly without the support of air traffic management.

85.  The differences in interpretation of equivalence make it difficult to draft regulations which require equivalent levels of safety between small RPAS (those weighing less than 20kg) and manned aircraft. Mr Sivel, of JARUS, said that the aviation system was not prepared for such small aircraft: "On the larger end it is an aircraft and you have to adapt. On the lower end it is brand new."[99]

86.  With respect to small RPAS, the adoption of a proportionate approach with regards to airworthiness and operational regulations may be more appropriate than simple equivalence to manned aircraft. Trevor Woods, of EASA, suggested that such an approach would consider "the operation to look at the risks that the operation produces".[100] NATS suggested that "regulators should assess the particular risk to manned aviation", and ask themselves whether a small RPAS was "safe enough to undertake that particular task in that particular airspace".[101]

87.  A proportionate approach which considered risks on a case-by-case basis would differ from the classic approach adopted for manned aircraft. Mr Sivel described the classic process as: "You certify the aircraft, you certify the airman, you certify the operator, and then it can fly in airspace", considering each risk factor in isolation.[102] In contrast Mr Rahouja, of DG MOVE, said that a proportionate approach to risk for small RPAS would adopt the principle that "the first purpose is safety not only of the machines but of the operations … we need to find a way of defining the risk and then regulating accordingly to address that risk."[103] He referred to this as a "risk-based" approach, that is to say an approach where the airworthiness and pilot competency requirements are proportionate to the risk that an RPAS flight presents to third parties.[104]

88.  One strength of a risk-based approach is that it could take into account the variability of small RPAS models, types and applications, a significant challenge to developing regulations for commercial small-RPAS operations. The Royal Aeronautical Society said that without adopting a risk-based approach, it would "be difficult to develop a blanket regulation for such a wide variety of air vehicles and sub-systems", a point echoed by the Honourable Company of Airline Pilots: "Regulation must reflect and address the potential range of RPAS sizes and activities."[105]

89.  A benefit of a risk-based approach to safety regulations for small RPAS is that businesses would only be required to conform to safety standards where appropriate. This is already the case in the UK under CAP 722. Gerry Corbett, of the CAA, said:

    "Clearly, if you are operating somewhere where there is very little risk to people on the ground or in the air, you can be a little less fixed with some of the requirements for the aircraft, as opposed to an unmanned aircraft flying over London for example where you need to tighten up the requirements a lot more."[106]

90.  Mr Sivel told us that countries which adopted a proportionate or risk-based approach to regulations "almost all now have rules in place, and they almost all certify operators." He continued:

    "To give you an example, in the UK a month ago there were 300 certified operators. The country per inhabitant that has the most certified operators in Europe is Sweden, and then France, and then Norway. All these countries have taken a risk-based approach. If you take another very large country, the United States, that did not take the risk-based approach. Today they do not have a single certified operator."[107]

91.  The impact on regulators of taking a risk-based approach to regulations for small RPAS in commercial operations was also discussed. Mr Woods, of EASA, said such an approach would be an efficient use of resources for regulators:

    "According to the way that the risk is managed, perhaps there may be a category that does not need very much oversight but the label on the box and this kind of thing is sufficient for the very small machines. I think this emphasises the need for a proportionate approach, otherwise we will need so many resources to regulate it that it will not be possible".[108]

In contrast, BALPA said that "light touch regulation (which is being adopted more and more in other aviation areas) or self-regulation will struggle", highlighting the difficulty in enforcing such an approach.[109]


92.  A fundamental issue throughout the inquiry was how the two approaches to regulating large and small RPAS, one of which seeks equivalence with manned aircraft, and while the other adopts a risk-based approach to risk in all forms, could be reconciled within one regulatory framework. Mr Woods, of EASA, said that the two approaches would reflect two sides of the spectrum on regulations: "we need to look at it as a complete approach from very small to very large aircraft, with a continuum where the safety assessment of the operation is more important at one end and the certification at the other".[110] Mr Corbett, of the CAA, said that between the extremes of very small and very large RPAS "there … is a bit of flexibility on a moving scale so that some [regulation] can be done on the basis of a safety case in some areas, depending on where the operation is taking place."[111]

93.  On the other hand, we heard that regulations for large RPAS could also benefit from the flexibility of a risk- based approach. Mr Sivel told us that unmanned RPAS, of whatever size, differed significantly from manned aircraft, as there was no longer a need to protect people on board.[112] In this respect, as Thales UK noted, RPAS are "disruptive and [challenge] many aspects of aviation law which has evolved over the past hundred years or so."[113]

94.  The Honourable Company of Airline Pilots said that "draconian rules applied to a larger RPAS that was only operated over the sea/sparsely populated areas would close off potential RPAS development areas to EU industry and operators."[114] Mr Rahouja noted that Airbus had recently submitted a large RPAS for airworthiness certification by EASA, adding: "Our discussion so far has been about the limited-weight RPAS, but this will be a first step towards a general concept of how and when and why or where … we can operate a large RPAS in an international or European environment."[115]

95.  It was also unclear how weight, a significant factor in manned aviation regulations, would be applied to risk-based regulations for small RPAS. Mr Sivel said the idea was "to take the weight out. There will be a weight factor, of course, but it is only one component of the risk assessment."[116] Mr Meuleman, of BeUAS, who helped to design legislation for small RPAS use in Belgium, agreed: "Weight is only one factor. It is an important one, but not the only one".[117] The Minister referred to an extreme example of a very small RPAS being flown around inside a shop: "we need to think about the point at which we say, 'These are toys. They cannot be hazardous to the general public and they should be outside of the regulation'. I think the weight of the vehicle would probably determine that."[118]

96.  We support the Commission's move towards adopting a risk-based approach to safety regulations for RPAS. Not only would this approach, which considers the characteristics of the RPAS flight, accommodate the variation in size of RPAS, but it would also avoid burdensome regulations for businesses.

Pilot training and licensing for small RPAS operators

97.  Pilot training and licensing demonstrate still more clearly the value of a proportionate, risk-based approach. In manned aviation, an international system for recognising pilot qualifications has been in existence for decades. The same cannot be said for RPAS. While many EU Member States require commercial RPAS pilots to demonstrate competence for specific devices or activities, and to obtain permission from the national aviation authority to carry out aerial work, in the absence of EU-wide rules there is a degree of variation. Peter Lee, of Taylor Vinters LLP, said: "it is not at all straightforward for an experienced UK qualified-RPAS pilot to travel and offer his or her services in another Member State. The complexity of different national regimes therefore risks stifling the development of the small RPAS services industry."[119]

98.  BALPA and Alan Mckenna recommended that all small RPAS commercial pilots should be required to undertake training to obtain a licence.[120] However, the standard of training proportionate to the operation of a small RPAS was disputed. Captain Andy Brown, of BALPA, said a more comprehensive pilot's licence for operators of RPAS weighing 7-20kg should be a requirement: "It might not be as comprehensive as an airline transport pilot's licence, and it would certainly be slightly different, but it would be towards that sort of level."[121] Gareth Roberts, a trainer and consultant on RPAS use by public service agencies, said that a set of "legal minimum standards" and career education up to and including a level 7 qualification (equivalent to a Master's degree') should be developed.[122] This could be done along similar lines to the Private Pilot's Licence (PPL) or commercial pilots licence.[123]

99.  On the other hand, Professor Keith Hayward, of The Royal Aeronautical Society, was conscious that "if you overqualify your pilot, your controller, and require him or her to invest a considerable amount of money in that process, it will considerably inhibit the development of the kind of downstream activities that we want to see developed for a future economy."[124]

100.  Yet the risks of pilot error are clear. Philip Heath, of John Heath Insurance Brokers LLP, said: "In general terms, 5% of our operators have had an incident that we can attribute to pilot error. Generally, incidents occur within the first 12 months [of operating], which, to us, indicates that inexperience is, perhaps, a key factor." He suggested that, as long as costs were kept proportionate, it should be mandatory to include "some form of flight training as an obligation".[125]

101.  Witnesses also reflected on who should deliver this training and how they should be regulated. In the UK, the CAA demands that pilots of any aircraft have at least a basic understanding of the applicable regulations, in particular the Air Navigation Order and Rules of the Air Regulations. The CAA requires potential commercial RPAS pilots to demonstrate that they are sufficiently competent before any operating permission is issued. It recognises qualifications issued by two Qualified Entities (EuroUSC and Resource Group Ltd) as proof of pilot competence.

102.  Mr Roberts, though, expressed concern about the private sector provision and certification of RPAS pilot training: "These training initiatives are uncoordinated and often purely 'commercial' endeavours and do little to enhance the new trade."[126] Mr McKenna said that there should not only be a "requisite standard recognised across Europe, but that there should be adequate competition amongst such certification providers."[127]

103.  Mr Meuleman said that there had been complaints about a company in the Netherlands carrying out this work, which was "quite expensive." Private companies might work, but "it should be within limits, yes, because they are private companies, and their own goal is to earn money".[128]

104.  In contrast, EuroUSC argued strongly in favour of using private organisations, similar to the UK's Qualified Entities (of which EuroUSC itself is one), to alleviate the pressure on national authorities and to satisfy growing demand for pilot training. It also said that such certified entities could "dynamically harmonise" approaches—for example, a Qualified Entity could operate simultaneously in two or more countries if it satisfied all relevant national criteria.[129]

105.  We recommend that commercial RPAS pilots operating in the EU should be assessed for their competence to fly safely to a level which reflects the risk of the operation to be undertaken. EU-wide guidance on grades of pilot competence should be produced to support the development of the internal market and improve the quality of training received across the EU.


106.  At present, RPAS with an operating mass of more than 150kg are subject to European Regulation (EC) No. 216/2008, which enforces airworthiness standards. But RPAS below 20kg, the sector where most commercial RPAS operations are currently taking place, are subject to few existing standards or assessments. While an airworthiness standard refers to the quality of the product when manufactured, an airworthiness assessment considers the maintenance of a system which has been in operation.

107.  The Royal Aeronautical Society said: "The EC has not included improved airworthiness as a priority for the development of the civil [RPAS] market. We believe this needs to be added as a matter of urgency." It said that airworthiness requirements were essential in order to ensure the safety of the different types of RPAS available in this expanding market.[130]

108.  Resource Group Ltd agreed that the lack of airworthiness standards for small RPAS was a "weakness of the industry".[131] The Government confirmed that there were no specific airworthiness standards in the UK for RPAS with a mass of 20kg or less:

    "Specific standards for such small aircraft would be disproportionate to the size and relative risk to third parties. It is the responsibility of the 'person in charge' of the [RPAS] to satisfy him/herself that the flight can be safely manned and, while flying the [RPAS], he/she is required to operate it in a way that will not endanger any person or property."[132]

109.  Mr Sivel suggested that there was a risk that a lack of European airworthiness standards for small RPAS would result in manufacturers adopting standards produced by Europe's competitors, such as the USA. He said that EUROCAE, through Working Group 93, was hoping to develop standards by 2016, but that the quality of these standards would not be sacrificed in order to meet this deadline.[133]

110.  We asked the Commission whether it had considered using the CE marking scheme, as a short-term alternative to conventional aviation airworthiness standards, to introduce some basic standards into the small RPAS sector. A CE marking is the manufacturers' declaration that a product meets the requirements of applicable European Directives.[134]

111.  Mr Rahuoja confirmed that the Commission was examining this option. He said that the advantage of such a scheme was that it would "avoid a certification process, which may be burdensome for both the administration and industry".[135] Mr De Vos, also of DG MOVE, added that this approach would also help to reduce compliance costs, because products could be tested by regulators but also by competitive businesses in an industry: "some companies, which see that their market is taken away by products that do not satisfy that CE marking but which are brought on the market, go to some supermarket and perform their own tests."[136]

112.  However, Mr Heath, of John Heath Insurance Brokers LLP, said that the CE marking would be relevant only to a device that had been manufactured as an entire unit, and that it would be difficult to apply to a self-build RPAS.[137]

113.  Airworthiness standards would need to be complemented by ongoing assessments of the RPAS after use, to ensure that a level of safety is maintained. Mr Heath said that "Approximately 10% of our operators have been involved in an incident that could be related to airworthiness and, in our view, anything that can reduce the risk of an incident has to be welcomed." On the other hand, he cast doubt on the feasibility of asking pilots of RPAS weighing under 20kg to be responsible for the ongoing airworthiness of their aircraft: "Most of the operators that we are seeing are photographers. They are not engineers and they do not possess scientific or engineering knowledge." He also highlighted other issues to consider, such as how often airworthiness assessments were carried out, who would carry them out and the cost to the operator.[138]

114.  The Government noted that in certain circumstances the CAA might require additional airworthiness assessments for RPAS, for example for flights over people, or flights beyond the visual line of sight of the pilot.[139]

115.  EuroUSC also highlighted the current differences in approach between Member States on this issue. Germany and France simply required RPAS pilots to declare themselves to the relevant regulator, without having to submit their aircraft to any checks, while the Netherlands and Malta subjected all RPAS to an airworthiness assessment (a requirement formalised in September 2014).[140]

116.  We support the ongoing development of EU airworthiness standards for small RPAS. These standards should be, as far as possible, consistent with emerging international approaches, particularly that of the USA. The requirement for airworthiness standards should depend on the type of RPAS operation.

117.  We recommend that the Commission quickly considers requiring CE marking for small toy-like RPAS (below 2kg). While this is not an airworthiness standard, and would not compensate for pilot error, it would introduce basic quality standards for these products.

118.  In addition, we believe airworthiness assessments can improve the safety of RPAS operations, and we encourage the Commission to consider creating guidance on this for national aviation authorities.

95   Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: A new era for aviation: Opening the aviation market for the civil use of remotely piloted aircraft systems in a safe and sustainable manner, COM(2014) 607, p 5  Back

96   Ibid p 5  Back

97   Written evidence from Aerosynergy Certification Ltd (RPA0001) Back

98   Written evidence from NATS (RPA0036)  Back

99    Q50 Back

100    Q51 Back

101   Written evidence from NATS (RPA0036) Back

102    Q51 Back

103    Q83 Back

104   Ibid Back

105   Written evidence from the Royal Aeronautical Society (RPA0018) and the Honourable Company of Airline Pilots (RPA0022) Back

106    Q16 Back

107    Q51 Back

108    Q57 (Trevor Woods) Back

109   Written evidence from BALPA (RPA0031) Back

110    Q51 Back

111    Q16 Back

112    Q49 Back

113   Written evidence from Thales UK (RPA 0042) Back

114   Written evidence from the Honourable Company of Airline Pilots (RPA0022) Back

115    Q88 Back

116    Q49 Back

117    Q117 Back

118    Q178 (Robert Goodwill MP) Back

119   Written evidence from Peter Lee (RPA0040) Back

120   Written evidence from BALPA (RPA0031) and Alan McKenna (RPA0025) Back

121    Q41 Back

122   H M Government, 'National Framework of Qualifications in the UK': [accessed on 27 January 2015]  Back

123   Written evidence from Gareth Roberts (RPA0002) Back

124    Q41 Back

125    Q143 Back

126   Written evidence from Gareth Roberts (RPA0002) Back

127   Written evidence from Alan Mckenna (RPA0025) Back

128    Q133 Back

129   Written evidence from EuroUSC (RPA0037) Back

130   Written evidence from the Royal Aeronautical Society (RPA0018) Back

131   Written evidence from Resource Group Ltd (RPA0009) Back

132   Written evidence from the Department for Transport (RPA0011) Back

133    Q54 Back

134   By affixing the CE marking to a product, a manufacturer declares, on his sole responsibility, that the product has been assessed before being placed on the market and thus satisfies the applicable legislative requirements (for example, a harmonised level of safety) enabling it to be sold in the EU. The scheme only applies to product categories mentioned in EU directives on the CE marking. Distributors must check that the product bears the CE marking and that the requisite supporting documentation is in order. If the product is being imported from outside the EU, the importer has to verify that the manufacturer has undertaken the necessary steps and that the supporting documentation is available upon request. Back

135    Q90 Back

136    QQ90-91 Back

137    Q143 Back

138    Q143 Back

139   Written evidence from the Department for Transport (RPA0011) Back

140   Written evidence from EuroUSC (RPA0037) Back

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