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Unmanned aircraft and urban air mobility

| Public and Regulatory Law

Rodolfo Gilmartín analyzes the European regulations on civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) that will soon be applied in Spain

At the end of this month -and year-, specifically on 31 December, the European regulations on civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), which establish a new regulatory framework for these systems, begin to be applied in Spain. These regulations, issued by the Commission, are as follows:

— Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 on standards and procedures for the use of UAS.

— Implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/639, which amends the previous one.

— Implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/746, which also modifies the former, postponing dates due to COVID19.

— Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945, of a technical nature on UAS.

— Delegated Regulation (EU) 2020/1058 amending the previous one regarding the introduction of two new classes of UASs

Royal Decree 1036/2017 of 15th December regulating the civil use of remotely piloted aircraft, which was the national legislation on the subject until now, will continue to apply only during the transitional periods provided for in the European legislation and for those aspects not covered by it.

The new European rules apply to unmanned aircraft, irrespective of their mass or use (no longer distinguishing between recreational and professional use) and include not only remotely piloted aircraft but also model aircraft and aircraft operated autonomously.

And it is precisely on this last point - that of the regulation of autonomously operated unmanned aircraft - that we must place particular emphasis.

Urban air mobility (UAM)

The entry into force of the regulation on the use of autonomously operated aircraft is the milestone that will definitively boost urban air mobility (UAM) in Europe. We are talking about freight - last mile delivery - and passenger transport - air taxi and air metro - in urban environments using unmanned and autonomously operated aircraft.

In Spain, Royal Decree-Law 26/2020, of 7th July, on economic recovery measures to deal with the impact of COVID-19 in the areas of transport and housing, introduced the concept of "unmanned aircraft" into Law 48/1960, of 21st July, on Air Navigation, together with the concept of pilot-controlled aircraft, the concept of autonomously operated aircraft, to "promote and facilitate economic activity carried out by aviation". On the one hand, traffic congestion in the EU, which the UAM would help to greatly reduce, currently costs almost 100 billion euros per year. And on the other hand, studies have concluded that there are both direct and indirect economic benefits from this economic activity.

Well, the UAM, which is part of Europe's Digital Strategy and within the Smart Cities policy - set out in Spain in the National Smart Cities Plan - contributes to this policy with sustainable and alternative transport in large cities, aimed at reducing road traffic congestion, as well as faster access to certain places and reducing carbon emissions.

Traffic management: U-Space

A fundamental aspect to be addressed for UAS to be able to offer their UAM services is their full integration into the airspace. And, for the management of UAS traffic, the U-Space, a proposal designed by SESAR JU, a Community body for public-private collaboration between the EU and private companies in the aeronautical sector, comes into play.

It should be borne in mind that it is not feasible for humans to cope with and manage the expected high number of UAS operations. Therefore, while the Single European Sky framework regulates the provision of air navigation services for the safe operation of general air traffic, a complementary traffic management system for the management of UAS traffic - U-Space - is required.

U-Space creates and harmonises, with clear and simple rules, the conditions necessary for manned and unmanned aircraft to operate safely in airspace to prevent collisions between aircraft and mitigate risks in the air and on the ground, taking into account three bases already incorporated in the new European rules: registration, geo-consciousness and remote identification.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has already taken a first regulatory step to allow the immediate implementation of U-Space after the entry into force of Regulation 2019/947 with its Opinion No 01/2020 on the High Level Regulatory Framework for U-Space, aimed at supporting and enabling operational, technical and commercial developments and providing equitable access to all airspace users, so that the market can drive the provision of U-Space services to meet the needs of airspace users.

Challenge

In short, there are many legal issues to be considered with urban air mobility with autonomously operated unmanned aircraft which is a reality that is closer than it is far away. From regulatory issues to competition, including digitalisation, cyber security, infrastructure, environment and a long list of other issues that require a high degree of specialisation in legal operators.

You can see the article in the Actualidad Jurídica Aranzadi Magazine. 

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