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The Focus of the European Legislation for UAVs - Safety

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As we have mentioned recently in one of our posts, 2021 brought the implementation of a new legal framework for UAV / RPAS in European airspaces. EASA
has implemented a new regulatory framework where the cornerstone is no longer based on the physical characteristics of unmanned aircraft but the focus has turned to safety and the risk that this operation may entail and, therefore, define the requirements based on them.

Although European regulations only apply to EASA operations, they should be the regulatory framework of reference for all member countries of the union. At the same time, although states continue to have the capacity to regulate certain types of operations (customs services, rescue, fire fighting, border controls, administrative uses, etc.), these rules must be developed according with European regulations.


Although the regulatory framework was published already in June 2019, it did not come into force until this year. Although a transition period has been
established until 2022 for each of the categories that we will see below, it is already mandatory for the new platforms that will be developed from now

The main idea, which we have already anticipated, is that your point of analysis is focused on the risk of the operation. The weight of the ship is now secondary, although it may determine certain limitations or require more stringent certifications. Based on this risk, three categories have been established:

  • Low Risk: the so-called Open Category. Limited in possibilities but does not require prior authorization from authorities. It is focused on consumption and leisure.
  • Medium Risk: this risk category is known as Specific. It begins to have greater restrictions, but the risks of this type of operation are limited.
  • High Risk: this would encompass the Certified Category. This category allows greater freedom of action, but, logically, the controls to these platforms are subject are high and require prior certification. The focus is the safety of both the operation and the aircraft subsystems.

​​​​​​​As we can see, no distinctions are made between professional use and leisure use (although the amateur will fall into the open category). Nor there is a specific distinction made between experimental or aerial flights.

Before entering each of the categories, it should be noted that the new regulation only applies to exterior flights, not interior ones.

Open Category

The first category, the Open Category, is quite restrictive in the type of operations that are allowed to carry out. On the other hand, it is the one that puts the least restrictions a priori when it comes to flying our platform. The limitations it specifies are listed as following:

  • Sight operations (≤500 meters from where the operator is)
  • No more than 120m above the ground
  • Platforms cannot weigh 25 kilos or more
  • The load, if any, must not be dangerous to those around it
  • This type of category does not allow autonomous operations
  • No material launches should be made
  • Based on the drone characteristics and purpose of the flight the operator must need a specific licence.

If you meet all these requirements, then you would be in the Open Category. However, there is one last variable that causes flights to be subcategorized into three different types, regardless if it is a commercial or a sport flight:

  • Flights near people
  • Flights over people
  • You fly away from people

These flights, like those of over people, establish even greater restrictions based on variables related to the weight of the aircraft, the operator's training requirements, limitation of operations, etc.

Specific Category

Halfway between the Open Category (which does not require any type of prior authorization by the aeronautical authorities) and the Certified Category, we find the Specific Category. Risk assessment in this category is essential. How is it determined?

Thanks to the SORA (Specific Operation Risk Assessment) methodology, we can carry out an assessment of specific operational risks, establishing several risk levels, ranging from 1 to 6. In the Specific Category, you are allowed to carry out concepts of operation that imply higher levels of security and integrity. For example, BVLOS flights, at a height greater than 120 meters, with platforms of more than 25 kilos, and autonomous flights, etc. On the other hand, you have greater prior control, and, at the highest risk levels of the Specific Category, the operator is required to use a certified platform.

This Category Includes 2 Scenarios


A responsible declaration is enough to be able to fly. Sometimes, a posteriori, the authorities may require that you provide them with more information, but it is not a sine qua non-condition to be able to operate. They are carried out in non-autonomous urban and non urban environments, still within the operator's line of sight and with a height less than 120 meters high. Regarding the physical dimensions of the platform, it must still weigh less than 25 kilos and it cannot be a fixed wing and it must be less than 3 meters long. What would be a typical UAV use in this scenario? For example, inspecting a facade or taking aerial photographs. Some exceptions are allowed for flights in areas without population and beyond the line of sight (missions within the scope of agriculture or the environment) Although other restrictions are maintained (not autonomous operations, dimensions, weights) and must always be in a controlled environment.

With permission

Depending on certain scales to measure risk, we are already faced with a situation with greater demands for the safety and integrity of the operation. This can be a risk on the ground (VLOS / BVLOS or because it is a controlled / rural / populated area) or due to other factors (Are we flying near an airport? Are we in controlled airspace? Are we flying at a low altitude?) Based on all these variables, the risk of the operation is measured with a SAIL I-VI (Specific Assurance and Integrity Level). According to the SAIL level, a higher level of robustness is requested from the aircraft (SAIL I, II low; SAIL III, IV medium; SAIL V, VI high). For low SAIL nothing is required; for medium SAIL at least design verification is required and for high SAIL Restricted Type Certificate or Certified Aircraft.

Certified Category

The one that allows us to carry out operations that imply a greater risk, and that is why it is also the category that is more restrictive in its prerequisites that we must comply with. Specifically, it requires a certified operator and a remote pilot license if the flight is not automatic.

In addition, to those operations in which the highest levels of security and integrity required are achieved, there are some elements that will automatically require you to have a certification in case you want to carry out your mission:

  • Fly over a group of people
  • Platform whose length exceeds 3 meters
  • The platform is designed to transport people
  • The merchandise you carry on board is dangerous for the people around you in the event of an accident on the aircraft

All these types of operations must carry out their landing and take-off at aerodromes and comply with the corresponding operational requirements.

Regarding certification, the law distinguishes three levels of different layers of analysis.

  • Core level: all elements and critical equipment for UAS navigation
  • Intermediate: support elements for the operation and that serve as a link between the Core and external elements, and that offer protection against unwanted elements (hacking, failures, etc.)
  • External elements: commercial / public infrastructure, external networks, etc.
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UAV Navigation is a privately-owned company that has specialized in the design of flight control solutions for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) since 2004. It is used by a variety of Tier 1 aerospace manufacturers in a wide range of UAV - also known as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) or 'drones'. These include high-performance tactical unmanned planes, aerial targets, mini-UAVs and helicopters.