Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on RPAS

Droning on about unmanned aircraft

The use of unmanned aircraft is expanding rapidly and significantly. Unmanned aircraft in a military environment is something we all heard about in the news but there is also an increasing number of civil operations that are being carried out today.

The real name for this new type of airspace user is Remotely Piloted Aircraft System - in short RPAS. RPAS is one of the subsets of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). RPAS are not intended to take over all tasks of manned aircraft but they are capable of flying closer to obstacles and are conducting operations that cannot be done by manned aircraft due to the safety risks or the excessive costs involved. In fact, the type of operations carried out by RPAS varies widely: they include environmental and fishery operations, disaster response, fire fighting and many more.

The sky is the limit as they say.

How do we integrate RPAS into the present aviation environment?

The integration of RPAS into the present manned aircraft environment is based on a few basic but essential principles:

  • They should not pose an additional hazard to existing operations.
  • They should be as safe as or safer than manned aircraft operations.
  • They should operate in a transparent manner for ATC.

These principles, which have been agreed at an international level, will ensure that when an RPAS has been approved to operate in the same environment as manned aircraft, it will not have a negative impact on the current way we handle our day-to-day traffic.

How does RPAS work?

The RPAS consists of three parts;

  1. Aircraft
  2. Data link
  3. Ground station

As the ICAO definition states, RPAs are aircraft. The only difference is that the pilot is not on board. They come in all shapes and sizes, weighing from just a few grams and can go up to several tons.

Is a remotely controlled helicopter I can buy in a toy store also a RPAS?

Any remotely controlled aircraft that is used for commercial purposes fall under RPAS. That means that the operator/pilot of that RPAS will have to meet all the requirements that are set for all RPAS operating in the same category. If the operator/pilot cannot meet these requirements he will be violating several regulations. Toys and remotely controlled models are covered by a specific law, as defined per state.

What about fully autonomous RPAS?

The types of UAS and RPAS that are currently flown or that are under development will always have a pilot in the loop. This means that the pilot will always be in control of the aircraft. Civil autonomous unmanned aircraft, which are not a part of the RPAS family, are not being considered by the international and national organisations that are working on integration into controlled airspace.

What about RPAS & privacy?

Despite the fact that the development of the Internet has jeopardised our privacy through its ability to gather and send information and data, the voluntary use of social media to share private information is perceived as admissible. The same thinking applies in many major cities like London where more than 11,000 CCTV cameras are used by the police for safety purposes and are accepted by the public.

It is good to be aware about issues like privacy, but this has already been addressed in our legislation and, in some states, even in national constitutions. The same could be said about data protection. Both rights have even been addressed on a European level and RPAS will not be exempted from these rules.

The public perception of RPAS is often biased by the negative image conveyed by the press and some interest groups. Concerned citizens rightfully have questions regarding the use of RPAS in this context, however, the fact that RPAS will not bring anything new should be of reassurance. It is not any different from your license plate being investigated by a manned helicopter.

In our work, ways of safely integrating RPAS’s privacy rules and regulations are being carefully considered.

What benefits can civil RPAS bring?

RPAS in general can operate much closer to the ground and to obstacles for inspection than manned aircraft can. This allows RPAS to inspect power lines or oil pipelines in labour-intensive and sometimes dangerous circumstances, at a much lower cost. These types of inspections are already taking place in several European states. Another example is precision agriculture. The biggest advancements in agriculture will be achieved by using RPAS: it will allow farmers to monitor their crops and, at a very precise level, be able to add fertiliser or pesticides only those on areas where it is required. The savings in pesticides and fertiliser are estimated at some 75%. Moreover, it will also have a positive impact on the environment.

In general, RPAS are highly suitable for dull, dirty and dangerous operations.

What is EUROCONTROL’s role in this?

EUROCONTROL’s core business is ATM. EUROCONTROL does not regulate or develop industry standards like EUROCAE. EUROCONTROL is, however, uniquely placed as a civil/mil  civil-military organisation to ensure that the integration of RPAS does not negatively impact on our present and future ATM system. To achieve this, a group of experts - the UAS team - has been addressing this issue. They are involved in developing ICAO SARPS, regulation and industry standards to ensure that the integration principles are not compromised.

EUROCONTROL provides support to the EC, which has taken the lead at a European level. We were major contributors in developing the EC roadmaps. EUROCONTROL also plays a crucial role in the integration of RPAS by providing direct support to civil and military authorities that are in the process of integrating RPAS or developing regulations, ATM procedures or generic safety cases. Our relationship with our main partners is essential in ensuring successful and safe integration.

Will RPAS fly together with manned aircraft?

There are several technical requirements and rules that RPAS will need to meet in order to be allowed to fly in the same airspace as manned aircraft. EUROCONTROL, together with other international entities like EASA, EUROCAE and the EU, are developing these requirements. Only the RPAS that can meet these requirements will be allowed to fly in airspace together with manned aircraft.