Safety in Unmanned Aircraft System Management

Knowledge    /    June 25, 2020

With the ongoing advances in unmanned systems technology and the extended application of drones worldwide and particularly in the EASA countries, aviation is undergoing a global revolution. Aviation Authorities are facing the challenge to build a culture of safety compliance in all facets of UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) operations, which requires the development of concepts and frameworks in order to guarantee safe operations while allowing the drone industry to innovate and continue to grow.
Initially mainly used for aerial video and photography and military missions too dangerous for humans, the application of UASs has extended significantly over the last years. Drones are capturing the world’s airspace and today are used for multiple operations including infrastructure inspections, atmospheric research, wildlife protection, disaster relief, wind energy monitoring, pipeline and power inspection as well as media and entertainment, among many others.

As applications and the interest in commercial and recreational flights increase, also operational risks are rising and drones are leaving the fewer regulated low-level airspace by entering a sphere, where they must coexist with manned aircraft.

In order to avoid collisions, guarantee the safety and privacy of people and the integrity of critical and sensitive infrastructure, aviation authorities worldwide are facing the challenge of a full and safe integration of drone operations into existing aviation systems.

Considering the broad range of operations and types of drones, in a first step three categories of operations and their associated regulatory system have been established: Open, Specific and Certified drone operations.

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Three categories of drone operations
The open category covers the very low risk operations, therefore without involvement of Aviation Authorities, even for commercial operations. The drone must be flown under direct visual line of sight (VLOS: 500m), at an altitude not exceeding 150 m above the ground or water and outside of specified reserved areas (airport, environmental, security).

When operations start posing more significant risks to persons or involves sharing the airspace, the operation is considered “specific”. For these activities, each aviation risk would be analysed and a suitable mitigation would be agreed on by the authorities before the operation can start, based on a safety risk assessment. The safety risk assessment must address airworthiness, operating procedures and environment, competence of involved personnel and organizations, and may be defined and demonstrated through compliance to acceptable industry standards.

The third pillar of the proposed regulatory framework is the category of certified operations which is applicable when the aviation risks rise to a level akin to normal manned aviation.

Regulatory Framework
For the European Union EASA has defined a regulatory framework to ensure the free circulation of drones within the European airspace, entering into force on 31st December 2020.
iQSMS - Enabling safety and compliance in UAS operations
In general, operations under the “specific” category require individual authorization. However, drone operators have the chance to obtain a general authorization for category “specific” operation scenarios by applying for the newly introduced “Light UAS Operator Certificate” (LUC). Similar to the AOC for airlines, the LUC is bound to complying with defined requirements (see EASA Part-UAS Subpart C). These include the presentation and upholding of a detailed management and organization structure described in a LUC manual, and among others, as defined in paragraph UAS.LUC.030, the implementation of a Safety Management System (SMS) covering the following key processes in order to ensure operational safety and compliance with industry standards:

  • Safety reporting & internal investigations
  • Operational control
  • Communication on safety
  • Training and safety promotion
  • Compliance monitoring
  • Safety risk management
  • Management of change
  • Interface between organizations
  • Use of sub-contractors and partners

To build a strong safety culture in all facets of the operation and to apply the same high safety standards as in manned aviation is crucial for the UAS industry to ensure environmental and societal protection. In order to achieve this goal, drone operators must embrace new solutions and processes.

Our web-based solution iQSMS covers all key processes required for LUC holders and makes sure drone operators comply with regulatory requirements and national and international safety standards. Safety and security hazards and associated risks can be identified, evaluated, and managed in a proactive and systematic way, which simplifies the development of mitigation measures and allows UAS operators to easily monitor the effectiveness of corrective actions.

Since all relevant data is stored and processed on one 24/7 accessible platform, operators benefit from a high transparency regarding internal safety and quality processes, which ensure a good communication with the respective authority and enables drone operators to stay compliant with applicable regulations.

Related documents published by EASA: