The introduction of unmanned air vehicles into EASA’s area of control has caused the safety authority to adopt a more open-minded attitude to aircraft regulations.

Eric Sivel, innovation and research manager at EASA, says that although the integration of remotely-piloted air systems (RPAS) into European airspace is being managed as a gradual process and there won’t be a “big bang approach”, the variety of aircraft and operations that could be carried out have led it to be more flexible in its response to the technology.

“You can operate any type of 'drone' in any type of environment as long as it’s safe,” Sivel told the AUVSI Unmanned Systems Europe conference in Brussels on 4 March. “We are aviators and are used to certain things – like forbidding… [but] we can’t just forbid it because it’s unknown.”

Eleven documents are required for a manned commercial flight to be permitted. In the case of unmanned aircraft, however, requirements for documents such as a medical certificates and certificates of insurance may not be applicable.

“Making RPAS safe using the current model is going to cause an imbalance, so we are forced to change the way we work,” Sivel says. “This is not a small change, it’s a fundamental overhaul. There are prescriptive rules in aviation – you say ‘do it’.”

He adds that UAVs “pose challenges and questions that we as aviators had never asked ourselves”, and a “change in cultures” is becoming apparent.

Instead of applying blanket restrictions on UAVs, as is the case with manned aircraft, some RPAS operations will need to be considered on an individual basis and regulated as such, Sivel says.

EASA considers there to be three categories for UAVs in terms of regulation: the open “A” category, the specific “B” category and the regulated “C” category.

Systems that fall in the “B” category will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, as they are considered to entail certain risks.

“A” category UAVs, however, could arguably fall under regular national laws – and police forces can enforce punishment for their irresponsible use in some cases.

Numerous types of UAVs are being sold, Sivel says, “so it is impossible for an aviation authority to be everywhere”.

“We aren’t getting many applications for larger RPAS – and when I say large, I mean above 150kg [330lb],” he adds.

Only two applications have been submitted for UAVs above this size, with four more in the pipeline. The two submitted applications will be certificated to RPAS standards – not to manned aircraft standards as would previously have been the case, Sivel says.