Unmanned Aerial Systems: Friend or Foe?

Almost on a monthly basis, new UAS types enter the market and so the issue of UAS becomes more and more important. Although most of the UAS flying today serve a military purpose, they can already affect the pilots' daily flying life. ECA monitors how authorities will implement rules which will coexist with those applied to manned aviation. Looking further into the future there are already ideas to implement UAS technology into cargo operations.

The integration of UAS into 'our' civilian airspace is very difficult, as there are many areas which still haven't been solved satisfactorily (UAS only in segregated airspace, communication link, pilot in charge, etc.). But who is pushing for this integration and who is working on the standards?

There are two parties behind the controls: the experts (consisting of engineers, operators, authorities) and the lobbyists. Whilst the experts try to develop the UAS to work within the existing airspace rules and structure, they quickly meet practical limits. That's why lobbyists are pushing fast for specific legislation as they fear otherwise new big market-opportunities may pass by. They argue that if Europe waits any longer with its implementation of rules, the US and Israel will take the market. They lobby hard and, perhaps, successfully.


Where are discussions held? At global level there is a UAS study group within ICAO, which is an informal group assigned to the air navigation committee. Its work is based on recommendations of RTCA SC-203 (Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics) on the US-side and EUROCAE WG73 (European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment) in Europe. Both RTCA and EUROCAE are non-profit organisations aiming to resolve technical problems with electronic equipment for air transport and deal with aviation standardisation. In Europe, there is an extra complication as the EASA basic regulation only covers UAS above 150kg. Therefore, the responsibility to regulate all aspects of UAS at and below 150kg remains with the national authorities.

The main issue with integrating UAS' into civilian airspace is the Sense & Avoid Problem which raises many questions. With a time delay of several seconds between the command given by the UAS operator (pilot?) and the subsequent reaction of the UAS, does the pilot/operator really have control? What happens if the link between operator and UAV brakes down and the UAS falls back to an automated function like a circling climb? Is the pilot in charge still responsible? So besides the technical issues, there are important legal implications, too.

With all these legal, technical and industrial concerns in mind, ECA is establishing an UAS Expert Group which has its kickoff meeting on May 27, 2010 in Brussels. All pilot members interested in this topic are more than welcome to join this meeting through their local Member Association of ECA – we need your support NOW!! It is YOUR future flying environment!