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Towards the Harmonization of the European Rules on Unmanned Aircraft

Regulation (EU) 2018/1139 – referred to as the “new” Basic Regulation as it replaced Regulation (EC) No 216/2008 on common rules in the field of civil aviation – came into force on 11 Sept. 2018 and can be considered a further step ahead in view of a widely expected EU legislation on unmanned aircraft. The newly issued Regulation covers unmanned aircraft regardless of their operating mass, since its provisions are extended to all type of drones (either below or above 150 Kg operating mass). The reasoning behind the new approach is explained by Recital 26, stating that“Since unmanned aircraft also operate within the airspace alongside manned aircraft, this Regulation should cover unmanned aircraft, regardless of their operating mass. Technologies for unmanned aircraft now make possible a wide range of operations and those operations should be subject to rules that are proportionate to the risk of the particular operation or type of operations”. Pursuant to article 55 of the new Basic Regulation, the design, production, maintenance and operation of unmanned aircraft and their engines, propellers, parts, non-installed equipment and equipment to control them remotely), as well as certification and registration duties, shall comply with the essential requirements set out in Annex IX. These requirements shall apply to the design, production, operations and registration of drones. It is also provided that – taking into account the nature and risks of the activity concerned, the operational characteristics of the unmanned aircraft concerned and the characteristics of the area of operation – a certificate may be required in relation to the design, production, maintenance and operation activities. In the event that a certification is needed, additional essential requirements shall be complied with in terms of airworthiness and organization.

Furthermore, according to articles 56-57-58 of the new Basic Regulation, detailed provisions shall be laid down by way of delegated and implementing acts to be adopted by the European Commission, particularly expected with regard to rules, conditions and procedures for: (i) design, production and maintenance; (ii) registration and marking; (iii) establishing digital and harmonized national registration systems; (iv) issuing, maintaining, amending, suspending or revoking certificates (including personnel); (v) flight operations (including personnel involved in those operations). The EU Commission will now have a period of 5 years (starting from 11 Sept. 2018) in order to adopt the mentioned implementing acts, based on the technical opinions to be released by the EASA. In the meantime, each Member State will continue to have full authority on the regulation of drones, provided that each national legislation shall comply with the general guidelines established by the new Basic Regulation.

This article was originally published by Francesco Grassetti with Studio Pierallini.

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