RPAS: The big picture

Integration principles

The overall approach towards integration is that RPAS will have to fit into the ATM system and not that the ATM system needs to significantly adapt to enable the safe integration of RPAS. RPAS will have to prove to be as safe as current manned operations, or safer. RPAS behaviour in operations will also have to be equivalent to manned aviation, in particular for the air traffic control (ATC), as it will not be possible for the ATC to effectively handle many different types of RPAS with different contingency procedures.

High Level Operational Requirements

The integration of RPAS shall not imply a significant impact on the current users of the airspace;

  • RPAS shall comply with existing and future regulations and procedures;
  • RPAS integration shall not compromise existing aviation safety levels, nor increase risk: the way RPAS operations are conducted shall be equivalent to manned aircraft, as much as possible;
  • RPAS shall comply with the SESAR trajectory management process;
  • All RPAS shall be able to comply with air traffic control rules/procedures;
  • RPAS shall comply with the capability requirements applicable to the airspace within which they are intended to operate.

Operations Classification

It is envisaged that RPAS will operate in the airspace and ATM environments, mixed with a variety of manned aircraft (e.g. from gliders to large airliners) under instrument flight rules (IFR) or visual flight rules (VFR) adhering to the requirements of the specified airspace in which they are operating. While commercial air transport (CAT) normally flies to move passengers, freight or mail from aerodrome ‘A’ to aerodrome ‘B’, following a profile including a climb phase, en-route at relatively high  altitude composed by essentially straight segments, descent and landing, RPAS comprise a much  wider range of possible operations, and in many ways similar to the operations of General Aviation, Rotorcraft, and Military missions including:

1. Very low level (VLL) operations (alias non-standard VFR or IFR operations) below the typical IFR and VFR altitudes for manned aviation: i.e. not to exceed 500 ft. above ground level; they comprise:

A. Visual line of sight (VLOS) in a range not greater than 500 meters from the remote pilot, in which the remote pilot maintains direct unaided visual contact with the remotely piloted aircraft;
B. Extended Visual Line of Sight (E-VLOS) where, beyond 500 meters, the pilot is supported by one or more observers, in which the crew maintains direct unaided visual contact with the remotely piloted aircraft;
C. Beyond VLOS (B-VLOS) where the operations are also below 500 ft., but beyond visual line of sight requiring additional technological support.

2. RPAS operations in VFR or IFR, above 500 ft. and above minimum flight altitudes; they comprise:

A. IFR (or VFR) operations in radio line-of-sight (RLOS) of the RPS in non-segregated airspace where manned aviation is present. The key capability of ‘detect and avoid’ (D&A) is required in relation to cooperative and non-cooperative nearby traffic (otherwise specific procedures and restrictions would apply);

B. IFR (or VFR) operations beyond radio line-of-sight (BRLOS) operations, when the RPA can no longer be in direct radio contact with the RPS and therefore wider range communication (COM) services (including via satellite) are necessary. In this case COM would typically be offered by a COM service provider.

The altitudes that are identified for the above mentioned operations are of a generic nature not taking into consideration National differences and exemptions.

Integration phases

The RPAS integration is a phased and gradual introduction of RPAS operations, based on the 5 types of operations identified above, and three subsequent levels of integration. It provides a detailed plan for initial operations of RPAS for all types of scenarios. Operations will still be subject to limitations, not only in terms of accessible airspace classes, but also over densely populated areas and in particular in the vicinity of aerodromes. The Roadmap suggests realising further integration, partially alleviating any restrictions/ limitations. This evolution would lead to full integration of RPAS.

1. Initial operations
At this first level of integration, operations are conducted under restrictions defined by the CAAs. In this phase, a significant volume of cross-border operations is not expected. Integration into non-segregated airspace will only be possible under strict conditions. At the same time, the development of the necessary regulation will have started. When national competences exist, rules will be developed by CAAs with the greatest possible degree of voluntary harmonisation.

2. Integration
In this second integration step, RPAS start conducting their operations according to harmonized regulations, alleviating a number of restrictions/limitations. Operation of RPAS < 150 kgs are progressively based on common rules, which would alleviate some of the restrictions to access non-segregated airspace ( controlled and non-controlled) and to operate at aerodromes. Mutual recognition of certificates or licences, based on common rules, facilitat cross border operations. Harmonisation on a worldwide scale will however continue to be pursued mainly through ICAO..

3. Evolution
Further evolution would allow to achieve the ultimate goal, where appropriately certified and approved RPAS, flown by licensed remote pilots and under the legal responsibility of certified RPAS operators will be able to operate cross-border, in non-segregated airspace and over any populated territory. In other words, complete integration into the European and global civil aviation system. However, some restrictions may still apply in congested terminal areas and at aerodromes.

3 phased Integration reflected against the ASBU’s

Time frame 2013
Currently, light RPA (< 150 kg) operations in VLOS and EVLOS are taking place in a number of European countries, but based on non-mutually recognized or harmonized national rules. Such operations can be conducted in all airspace classes, but always in visual contact of the remote pilot or an observer. Routine operations are normally allowed outside congested areas, to reduce the risk for people on the ground, while alleviating the airworthiness certification processes for RPAS of small mass (e.g. below 25 Kg). Additional safety requirements and processes apply, when an RPAS operator wishes to fly over densely populated areas. Operations at airports are segregated from other traffic. On a case-by-case basis, IFR operations and demonstrations are carried out under strict conditions and mostly in segregated airspace. Civil commercial operations are already allowed in some member States under the responsibility of an approved RPAS operator.

Time frame 2014-2018
In this timeframe, VLOS and E-VLOS operations of light RPA will have become a daily occurrence, thanks to the progressive harmonisation of national rules. Common rules might be expected towards the end of the period. These types of RPAS operations could also be conducted over and in congested urban and highly populated areas, when harmonized safety objectives for airworthiness are complied with. Further progress would be made for IFR access of RPAS in class A to C airspace, thanks to a D&A system capable of interacting at least with corporative targets. However, RPAS operations may not be allowed along the standard arrival and departure routes in major Terminal Airspace, nor at airports mainly used by manned aviation and in busy en route environments.

B-VLOS operations at very low level will be further developed, which could enable initial operation in very sparsely populated areas or over the high seas. VFR operations could be allowed under certain conditions on a case by case basis and if justifiable business case can be made.

Time frame 2019-2023
In this timeframe, licensed remote pilots, under the responsibility of certified RPAS operators, would be able to operate approved RPAS, comprising an airworthy RPA, under IFR in almost all airspace classes. Common and proportionate rules developed by EASA, progressively apply to civil RPAS, comprising RPA of any mass. It is expected that, based on the performance requirements, some areas will still be off limit to RPAS, such as major airports and Terminal Airspace and some bottlenecks for all airspace users in Europe. Initial VFR RPAS operations could start. VLOS and E-VLOS RPAS operations will be fully integrated in day-to-day civil aviation operations. B-VLOS operations will be further expanded and possibly include operations over populated areas. As State RPAS flights (Military and governmental non-military) are subject to National regulations, it implies that public RPAS flights, which have the nature of state flights, may have to comply with different sets of National rules.

Time frame 2024-2028
In this timeframe, besides the evolution of technical and operational rules, which will lead to alleviation of residual restrictions, RPAS are expected to operate in most non-segregated airspace, mixed with manned aviation, following the same ATM procedures and ensuring the same level of safety and security. Furthermore, common rules can be envisaged for public flights. Finally, based on common rules, acquired experience and mutual recognition established among the member states, RPAS operators could fly cross border, based on the “File and Fly” principle, and avoid the administrative burden to apply for special authorization before filing the flight plan.