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Legislation for UAVs in the EU and Spain: A brief introduction

1.    Summary

While the global unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) industry is booming, regulators around the world are scrambling to keep up with new uses, capabilities, and technology. As unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology becomes more advanced, more approachable and more affordable, troves of commercial UAV pilots are entering the RPAS industry. Problem is, as it so often happens in such a quickly evolving ecosystem, policy makers are having a hard time keeping up. Other challenges include the need to ensure that UAVs are operated safely, without harming public and national security, and in a way that would protect areas of national, historical, or natural importance. UAV Navigation considers understanding international UAV legislation critical as UAV Navigation products follow the most exigent legal requirements. On this blog, we’ve done our best to highlight the principal topics to help you better navigate the UAV industry.


2.    UAV regulations in the EU

Recently, the EU regulatory framework introduced by the EU Commission to fly UAV/drones both safely and legally came into force December the 31st of 2020.

a.    The EU regulatory framework

The EU regulatory framework involves all types of existing and planned UAS services, encouraging the growth of innovative applications and the formulation of a European market for UAV services.
While sighting principally at ensuring safe operations of UAVs, the European regulatory framework also facilitates in preserving the privacy and security of citizens and contribute to addressing environmental concerns. Furthermore, the framework enables the deployment of an Unmanned Traffic Management System, the U-Space, to encourage the advancement of UAV services in low-level airspace, beyond visual line of sight and congested zones. 

As per the framework, UAVs can operate within the same Single European Sky airspace, alongside manned aircraft.

b.    A risk-based and proportionate approach:

The framework proposes three classes of operations (open, specific, and certified) according to the level of risks associated. Each category has a regulatory strategy.

  • Open Category: Low-risk operations (open category) doesn't require any authorization but is subject to strict operational restrictions: in visual line of sight (VLOS), under 120-meter altitude, and performed with a privately built UAV or a drone compliant with the technical specifications outlined in the law. The open class bears a category identification label.
  • Specific Category: For medium-risk operations (specific category), operators require to authorize from the national aviation authority based on a standardized risk assessment or a specific scenario. Operations requiring UAVs of more than 25 kg and/or operated beyond visual line of sight comes in this category. Before starting an operation in the specific category, operators must either perform a risk assessment (using a standardized method – the SORA – provided by EASA) and define mitigation measures or verify that they comply with a particular scenario outlined by EASA (or the national aviation authority). On that basis, they can obtain authorization from the national aviation authority (in some cases a simple declaration may be enough). The authorization or the specific scenario will define the authorized operation and the applicable mitigation measures (UAV technical requirements, pilot competence, etc.).
  • Certified Category: Lastly, in the case of high-risk operations (certified category), traditional aviation regulations will be used: UAVs must be certified for their airworthiness, pilots shall be licensed, and safety oversight will be performed by the relevant National Aviation Authorities and EASA.


Further operational restrictions apply to each class of UAV, in particular concerning the distance that must be maintained between the UAV and non-involved persons.


3.    UAV regulations in Spain

The Spanish legal framework applicable to UAV operations is composed of international conventions and accords, European regulations and directives, and domestic legislation.

  1. Spain, as a state party to the Chicago Convention, endorses all the agreements signed since the beginning of the organization and must comply with its provisions, resolutions, and recommendations issued by ICAO.
  2. From the perspective of EU legislation, EU Regulations 2019/947 and 2019/945 set the framework for the safe operation of UAVs in European skies. EU Regulation 2019/947, is fully applicable since December 30th, 2020, and caters to most types of operation.
  3. Finally, it should be noted that the legal framework that Spain already had in place is now overwritten with the European regulations previously mentioned. The core legal provision regulating the use of drones was Royal Decree 1036/2017, of 15 December, under which the use of civil remotely piloted aircraft was regulated (RD 1036/2017). Spain’s Aviation Safety State Agency (AESA) was the main government entity in charge of the control, surveillance, and enforcement of RD 1036/2017. 


EASA has published its new draft Opinion No 01/2020 “High-level regulatory framework for the U-space”, which was developed per Regulation (EU) 2018/11391 (“Basic Regulation”). This Opinion marks the beginning of a future regulation. As the rising number of UAV operations in the European airspace poses safety, security, and airspace integration issues, it is essential to prevent risks to air traffic, persons, and property in the common airspace. The objective of this Opinion is to create and harmonize the necessary conditions for manned and unmanned aircraft to operate safely in the U-space airspace, to prevent collisions between aircraft, and to mitigate the air and ground risks. Therefore, the U-space regulatory framework, supported by clear and simple rules, should permit safe aircraft operations in all areas and for all types of unmanned operations.


4.    UAV Navigation and the Legislation

UAV Navigation products follow the most exigent legal requirements ensuring our customers can take full advantage of the benefits of UAS. UAV Navigation, a world leader in the design of guidance, navigation, and control solutions, proactively follows the policy solutions legislated by lawmakers that enable and protect the innovative UAS uses of today and tomorrow. UAV Navigation’s developments are aligned with the regulations. UAV Navigation’s autopilots, with more than 60,000 flight hours have the capability to perform long-range operations, under extreme conditions, even if the communication with the GCS is lost during the operation. However, in its pursuit to increase operational safety, UAV Navigation has established this strategic alliance with Sagetech Avionics. This integration will uphold its integrity with technologies such as ACAS (Airborne Collision Avoidance System), TCAS (Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System) and when it uses a specific technology (SSR radar). With this integration, UAV Navigation shows its ongoing commitment to alignment to the regulations.

Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) Operations enables a UAV to cover far greater distances. UAV Navigation, as a leading company in the UAV sector and thanks to its wide experience, is aware of this situation and includes different logics and helpers that increases the BVLOS flight safety to the system, including managing multiple alternative landing sites, autorotation for rotary wing platforms or stall protection for fixed wing platforms among other functionalities. These new features highly enhance situational awareness and increases flight safety, which makes the UAV Navigation system to be aligned with the legislation demanding.

Hence, UAV Navigation always tries to provide its customers with innovative and cutting-edge functionalities and make their systems the most advanced solutions as well as make sure our products are safe and follow the strictest legislation.

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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.