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Contributing to a well-reasoned set of Airworthiness Standards for mass-market drones

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - AW-Drones (Contributing to a well-reasoned set of Airworthiness Standards for mass-market drones)

Reporting period: 2020-07-01 to 2021-12-31

The lack of harmonised standards is holding back the development of drone-related business, both at a global level and in Europe. Several studies and surveys (as for instance the European Drones Outlook Study, issued by SESAR) identify a reliable regulatory and standardisation framework as one of the main potential boosters for the drone business. Therefore, to foster the growth of safe drone usage, there is a need to implement coherent and interoperable global standards for drones in the EU.
AW-Drones is a 36 months Coordination and Support Action aiming at supporting the on-going EU regulatory process for the definition of technical rules, standards and procedures for civilian drones to enable safe, environmentally sound and reliable operations in the EU. This objective is met through four main strands of activity:
• Collect information on on-going and planned work with regards to technical rules, procedures and standards developed for mass-market drones worldwide;
• Carry out a critical assessment/benchmarking of all collected data to identify best practices, gaps and bottlenecks;
• Propose and validate a well-reasoned set of technical standards for each category of drone operations;
• Engage with key stakeholders and end-users, i.e. representatives of the whole drone value chain.
The AW-Drones project started in 2018 to contribute to the harmonisation of the EU drone regulations and standards. To this end, the project began collecting drone technical standards, rules and procedures already developed worldwide; then, it assessed their compliance to EU regulatory requirements. In particular, AW-Drones focused on assessing the coverage of EASA’s SORA, U-space and the Special Condition Light-UAS regulatory requirements and airworthiness design.

For each requirement, AW-Drones aimed to identify a set of potentially applicable standards using a twofold approach. On one hand, the project performed a top-down collection and assessment, adopting a Multi Criteria Analysis methodology; this facilitates comparing and ranking different options (especially when involving conflicting objectives), and evaluating their effects on multiple aspects; for example, how a proposed new regulation affects safety, cost, the environment, and society. With this powerful tool, the project assessed each standard against a number of parameters to determine its suitability as a Means of Compliance. In addition, frequent bottom-up consultations with key stakeholders and end-users ensured adequacy of the standards selected.
Recommended standards

Three years later, AW-Drones has assessed more than 600 standards against requirements from SORA, U-space and SC-Light UAS. Therefore, the project was able to propose a validated set of rules, technical standards and procedures for drone operations to comply with EU regulation. In the words of Natale di Rubbo, Drone Regulation Officer at EASA and speaker at our final public event:

“EASA is the main customer of AW-Drones activity. We started with a jungle of standards; but thanks to this project, we now have a better idea how to link standards to our rule-making activity”.

Throughout the project, AW-Drones presented EASA with yearly official project reports. Now, the project will deliver a final report synthesizing its results, complete with a detailed assessment of all standards supporting each requirement. The “AW-Drones proposed standards” are accessible to everybody as project deliverables.
The Drone Standards Information Portal

In addition, AW-Drones is currently finalizing its Drone Standards Information Portal. This free to use, online repository will make available the results of all this work to everybody. Not only will it provide a single point of access to relevant information about rules, procedures, and technical standards for mass-market drones worldwide, such as standards’ maturity level, coverage of regulation, and identified gaps; it will also include technical standards for each category of drone operations.

The latest version is due at the end of December 2021; it features a more intuitive graphical interface that makes it easier to use. The Portal will support all the actors in the growing drone industry; in particular, it will effectively aid UAS operators by identifying all the standards applicable to every requirement.

The Drone Standards Information Portal will stay online for at least two years after the project ends. The AW-Drones Consortium is currently developing a plan to make it sustainable for even longer.
Surveys on the operator’s perspective of drones

Finally, in the last two years, AW-Drones carried out two surveys exploring the drone operator’s perspective of SORA and U-space. Put together with the assistance of experts with complementary expertise from various countries, the surveys collected insight from the whole UAS community. They examined the current and near-future situation for multiple market sectors in the European UAS industry, flight mission purposes, and risk analysis methods.

The results of the surveys highlight knowledge gaps and lack of information among drone users, even when responses show significant knowledge and understanding of the drone sector and aviation in general. Many respondents asked for further clarification of rules and guidelines, indicating that the information available is currently insufficient.
The impacts of AW-Drones identified so far are the following ones:
- Give support to the on-going EU regulatory process for technical rules, standards and procedures for drones;
- Enable safe, environmentally sound and reliable operations in Europe by providing a clear landscape of technical and operational standards for drones: the proposed set of standards resulting from the activities are expected to foster the development of sustainable operations, providing the technical grounds on which drone manufacturers should base their developments.
- Generate additional leverage for Europe in the international negotiations for global rules and standards: the knowledge produced by AW-Drones will be shared with EASA, EU National CAAs and standardization bodies (e.g. EUROCAE) and will contribute to their awareness of the current global drones’ rulemaking and standardization state-of-the-art;
- Increase the acceptance of EU standards in the global drone product and service marketplace, generating economies of scale towards reducing costs whilst de-risking customer choice: AW-Drones is meant to foster and support the development and adoption of a common European set of rules for mass-market drones. This approach will contribute to the growth of a stronger and more acknowledged mass-market drone community, with common safety, operational and environmental standards of excellence;
- Offer better opportunities for European drone designers, manufacturers and operators in accessing global markets: a stable and clear regulatory approach is a key enabler for the development of a globally competitive drones value-chain in Europe. The contribution of AW-Drones to the establishment of a set of standards that are globally harmonized and recognized will contribute to make Europe the leading area in this sector, with consequent competitive advantages for European drone manufacturers and operators.
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