Today at Amsterdam Drone Week, Nathanal Apter of Swiss-based consulting firm UASolutions discussed the prospects for drone operations at scale in Europe.
The Challenges to Commercial Operations at Scale: SAIL Requirements, U-Space
Apter says that regulations are a topic that sometimes get too much attention – and sometimes not enough – when talking about getting drone operations to scale. Europe’s risk-based approach to regulations is party defined by a SAIL (Specific Assurance and Integrity Level) Score. Roughly speaking, very simple and low-risk operations – like agricultural ops in sparsely populated areas – have a low SAIL score, and more complex operations, such as drone swarms or flight in densely populated areas, have higher SAIL scores.
The SAIL scores range from I – VI, and come with increasing levels of requirements for compliance. SAIL I requirements include the basics: maintenance standards, checklists, and operational procedures. By the time operations have reached the SAIL IV level, they become more similar to the requirements for manned air operations.
Apter says that many companies start with an assumption that they should just certify for SAIL VI operations, so that they can fly everywhere. That may not be the best approach to scale commercial drone operations in Europe, however. Higher level SAIL requirements are complex, and can be both difficult and expensive to achieve. “Also, SAIL V and SAIL VI are still not completely defined,” Apter points out.
The Airspace Integration Problem: U-Space
U-Space, Europe’s framework for unmanned traffic management and drone integration into the airspace, is in development. While a great deal of work is being done both at the European level and by member states, U-Space has yet to be implemented in European countries – which can place commercial drone operators who want to fly BVLOS operations at scale in a challenging position.
“U-Space airspace is a need for BVLOS flight,” says Apter. “U-Space implementation will ease operations and help with scale.”
Getting to Viable Commercial Scale in Europe, Today
While the challenges are clear, Apter says that there is a path for commercial drone operations at scale, today. His recommendation is for companies to start small, and build.
Get deeper understanding of SAIL I and II
Apter says that there is a lot that can be done under SAIL I and II. As an example, one client has received permissions to fly an agricultural scale mission in any space that meets the criteria across Switzerland and France. “That’s a business at scale,” he says. “It’s a good place to start.”
Increase SAIL progressively.
Starting with SAIL I and SAIL II operations can allow a company to maintain a business while gradually working towards meeting the requirements for higher levels and more complex operations.
Follow Standardization Processes
Right now, industry standards are in development. These standards will be implemented to define and inform operational certifications, however – and stakeholders should follow the development of these standards closely to make sure that their own efforts are heading in the right direction.
Keep an Open Source Mentality
Apter says that collaboration is key with getting certification done. “If we exchange [work] together, we can progress faster,” he comments. “Open sourcing more knowledge about regulation and compliance is a way to foster the development of all companies in the end.”
Get Professional Help
While Apter recommends that companies build compliance competence in house, they may need external resources to navigate the process of getting and keeping operational permissions.
“It’s not just about getting an approval,” says Apter. “You need to keep the approval – you need to be compliant over time… The work is not finished once you get the paper, that’s just the start.”
“Regulations are evolving very fast, and there are regulatory changes that have heavy impact on operations. You can lose your approval faster than you got it. ”
Drone Operations in the Future
Apter says that while the process can seem challenging, it is improving. “Many aspects of SORA methodology are vague,” says Apter. ” JARUS is now reviewing the methodology and getting clarifications.” V2.5 of the SORA methodology will be much clearer and should be easier to follow.
For more information, Apter offers free resources and explanations, here.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.