By Anthony Venetz, founder and managing director at Across Safety Development

Maintaining an appropriate balance between innovation and safety is nothing new to the aviation sector. It’s summed up nicely by the late F H Sykes, former Controller General of UK Civil Aviation: “It has not always been easy to administer the Regulations so as to secure the safety of the public without handicapping the expansion of [the industry]”. Given that this quote dates back to 1919 it’s clear that whilst the technology is very different, this central issue is pretty much baked into the relationship between innovation and regulation.

We are in the midst of an incredibly exciting time in the evolution of the aviation industry across a whole range of areas, with advances in technologies and materials opening doors to entirely new aviation sectors including Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS), Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) and the electrification of aircraft.

By its nature, regulation is always going to lag innovation to some extent, but it’s fair to say we have already come a long way over the last decade or so. It’s largely been in line with a crawl, walk, run strategy. For example, in the UAS sector, the focus so far has been on facilitating operations in the lower end of the risk range, according to the ‘open’, ‘specific’ or ‘certified’ categories (with ‘open’ representing the lowest risk exposure). At the moment, in the UK only open and specific category of operations are possible; even if you had a UAS that was certified (of which there aren’t yet any), the regulatory framework required to allow the CAA to issue an approval for certified category operations isn’t yet mature enough for that to take place.

Regulation and legislation

It’s worth remembering that aside from the legislative ‘rule’ making aspects, there are a whole range of other considerations that form part of the picture, including:

– Developing policies regarding the interpretation and implementation of the rules

– Providing industry with Acceptable Means of Compliance (AMCs) for the various requirements

– Identifying recognised ‘standards’ which could be referred to within an AMC

– Providing industry with published Guidance Material to facilitate compliance with the AMCs

– Having the necessary expertise and resource within the regulator to assess what industry is submitting

Looking at the bigger picture, there is a lot that can be carried over from the traditional manned aviation regulatory landscape but there are also a lot of gaps. Taking the pilot out of the aircraft is perhaps one of the most obvious issues. The main implications of this being the ground-based nature of the Command Unit and the detection and avoidance of not only other traffic, but also other hazards that could be encountered inflight (think thunderstorms, icing etc.).

From a certification perspective this means fundamental changes have been required, going all the way back to ICAO SARPS, where for example Annex 8 (‘airworthiness of aircraft’) needed to be updated to introduce not only remotely piloted aeroplanes and helicopters but also the concept of a ‘remote pilot station’ (as a part that could itself be subject to Type Certification).

Aside from the aircraft, let’s not forget the regulation required for pilot competency/licencing and operator approval/certification.

Taking a deeper dive into the current challenges for UAS operations, consider the Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) process developed by the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS). This is used by many regulators around the world and on the roadmap for implementation in the UK.

Addressing air and ground risks

It’s an extremely useful tool that defines numerous requirements for Operational Safety Objectives (OSO) and safety mitigations to address air and ground risks. The requirements often call for “compliance with standards considered adequate to the competent authority and/or in accordance with a means of compliance acceptable to that authority” and here’s the rub, what are those exactly?

Problem 1: the requirements in the OSOs are pretty high level, so what aspects need to be covered in the standard; what will adequate look like?

Problem 2: there are only a small number of standards specifically directed at the UAS sector, and none designed specifically for SORA. Once you have identified a list of standards that might have bits that are relevant, it still ends up being a ‘pick and mix’ process to figure out how you can cobble something together that could potentially work (see the EU AW Drones project)

Problem 3: Once the potential standards (or sections of them) have been identified, the authority still needs to assess those as fit for purpose. This process alone is a huge piece of work (see project Shepherd in the EU).

So what can innovators do to establish and update their regulatory strategy and avoid the pitfalls of going down a development pathway that’s either inefficient or even worse, not going to meet requirements in the future? Looking at this from a more ‘glass half full’ perspective, what can innovators do to achieve compliance early on and be market leaders?

Aside from the obvious need to keep up to date with UK legislation and CAA publications, here are a few tips:

– Ensure you have a voice in the development of regulation by participating in industry groups like ARPAS-UK and CAA public consultations. Just in the second half of this year alone the CAA have held five UAS industry consultations as well as another four specific to VTOL

– Keep an eye on what standards bodies like BSI, ISO, ASTM etc. are working on and consider participating where you have the right subject matter expertise

– Keep an eye on what JARUS are up to. They recently held a public consultation on SORA version 2.5 and whilst still in draft, this sort of process can certainly provide some insight into the direction of travel for UAS specific category requirements

– Keep an eye on what EASA are doing. Whilst no longer directly applicable to the UK, material published by EASA is sometimes adopted anyway (as was the case in March this year when the CAA adopted the EASA Means of Compliance to SC-VTOL to aid OEMs intending to enter into the certification process for VTOL aircraft). There are already several MOCs which are directly relevant to SORA, most recently the ‘Means of compliance with SORA M2’ was finalised

The ‘to do’ list required to get us to certified UAS operations which are integrated with manned aircraft operations is still pretty long but let’s not forget that there has been a huge amount of progress already and there are lots of exciting opportunities out there for innovators with the right strategy in place.

Anthony Venetz is an aviation professional with over 35 years experience in operational, regulatory and safety settings. As a pilot, he has flown a wide range of aircraft types in diverse operating environments, including international passenger operations on B-747s, regional airline operations in South Australia, seaplane operations in Micronesia and ran his own successful flying school. Anthony is also an experienced pilot in both fixed wing and multicopper UAVs in VLOS and BVLOS operations. He founded Across Safety Development in 2010 to provide the highest quality regulatory and safety advice in a straightforward and relatable way.
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