Her Coordinates

“ICAO develops the global regulatory framework for UAS”

Jan 2015 | One Comment

Leslie Cary

Programme Manager, Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), International Civil Aviation Organization

For the benefit of our readers, can you explain the evolution of the terms UAV, UAS and RPAS?

In 2005, ICAO became involved with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) when our Air Navigation Commission (ANC) requested the Secretary General to consult selected States and international organizations with respect to: present and foreseen international civil UAV activities in civil airspace; procedures to obviate danger to civil aircraft posed by UAVs operated as State aircraft; and procedures that might be in place for the issuance of special operating authorizations for international civil UAV operations.

One result of this consultation was an agreement by the ANC that the subject should be referred to as ‘unmanned aircraft systems’ (UAS), in-line with RTCA and EUROCAE agreements. This change of terminology was also appropriate given that the vehicles are aircraft by definition and should therefore be referred to as such, while also acknowledging that said aircraft operate as part of a system.

The terms ‘remotely piloted aircraft’ (RPA) and ‘remotely piloted aircraft system’ (RPAS) were adopted by ICAO as subsets of unmanned aircraft (UA) and UAS, respectively. Not all UA are RPA, however all RPA are UA. The distinction lies with the ability of a person, i.e. a remote pilot, to actively manage the flight in real time, as does the pilot of a manned aircraft.

As ICAO develops the global regulatory framework for UAS, it is focusing on the integration of manned and unmanned aircraft operating in non-segregated airspace and at aerodromes. The Convention on International Civil Aviation, signed at Chicago on 7 December 1944 and amended by the ICAO Assembly (Doc 7300) stipulates that “pilotless aircraft… shall be so controlled as to obviate danger to civil aircraft.” In this context, pilotless and unmanned are synonymous. In order to ensure the safety of manned aircraft as required by the Convention, it is considered essential that any unmanned aircraft operating in non-segregated airspace in the vicinity of manned flights have a licensed individual with appropriate knowledge, skills and training at the controls.

In summary, UAVs are unmanned aircraft. Unmanned aircraft that are remotely piloted are the focus of ICAO’s work.

What is the mandate and the role of ICAO in the context of RPAS for civil applications?

ICAO has tasked several of its expert groups with work associated with RPAS.

The Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Panel (RPASP) coordinates and develops ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs), procedures and guidance material for RPAS to facilitate a safe, secure and efficient integration of RPA into nonsegregated airspace and aerodromes. The RPASP will, in collaboration with other ICAO expert groups, undertake specific studies and subsequently develop provisions to facilitate the safe, secure and efficient integration of RPA into nonsegregated airspace and aerodromes while maintaining the existing level of safety for manned aviation. The RPASP will:

1. Serve as the focal point and coordinator of all ICAO RPAS related work, with the aim of ensuring global interoperability and harmonization;

2. Develop an RPAS regulatory concept and associated guidance material to support and guide the regulatory process;

3. Review ICAO SARPs, propose amendments and coordinate the development of RPAS SARPs with other ICAO expert groups;

4. Assess impacts of proposed provisions on existing manned aviation; and

5. Coordinate, as needed, to support development of a common position on bandwidth and frequency spectrum requirements for command and control of RPAS for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) World Radio Conference (WRC) negotiations.

The ICAO Legal Committee is undertaking a study on liability issues related to RPAS. The Aviation Security Panel and the Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection are likewise engaged.

Does ICAO have any role in formulating guidelines for military drones also?

ICAO does not provide standards for military aircraft; however States have a strong interest in ensuring their military and civil aviation systems can co-exist efficiently. Furthermore, there are many lessons that have been learned by military authorities regarding design, manufacture and operation of UAS that can be shared with their civil counterparts. As such, ICAO serves as a forum where States can develop guidelines that may prove useful for both civil and military purposes.

Would you please explain the importance of the international regulatory framework for RPAS?

Whether aircraft are manned or unmanned, the international regulatory framework provided by ICAO allows aviation to advance in a safe, orderly and sustainable manner. The international regulatory framework provides harmonization so that manufacturers, operators, service providers, regulators, other stakeholders and the public have common expectations and understandings of the aviation system.

Determining airworthiness, operator responsibilities, training, safety management, airspace access requirements, phraseology, separation standards, security, facilitation and frequency spectrum are all topics for which global harmonization is essential. Cross-border operations, global marketing and national operations in the vicinity of international aircraft/ aerodromes each warrant the need for globally standardized aviation provisions.

ICAO has recently completed drafting the Manual on Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) (Doc 10019) which is undergoing editorial review prior to publication. This document provides readers with analyses of how the existing regulatory framework developed for manned aviation applies to unmanned aircraft and provides insight into the changes that will be coming. It serves as an educational tool for States and stakeholders, it supports the development of SARPs and guidance material by ICAO and it gives a basis for other standards-making organizations to harmonize their activities.

ICAO is hosting the first global RPAS Symposium Remotely Piloted or Piloted: Sharing One Aerospace System that will be held at ICAO Headquarters from 23 to 25 March 2015. Material from the new RPAS Manual will be presented along with Industry’s vision of future operations, regulatory and oversight challenges faced by States and airspace and aerodrome integration issues. Information on the symposium and exhibition can be obtained at: http://www.icao.int/meetings/rpas

What are the main regulatory challenges faced by the States in the use of RPAS?

States face many challenges when it comes to UAS and their use. For complex UAS employed for professional purposes, the difficulties revolve around adapting regulations developed to address issues encountered in manned aviation to finding effective solutions for the scenarios presented by unmanned aviation. Finding effective solutions requires a deep understanding of the issues and the underlying ‘what, how and why’ answers that led to the existing manned aviation regulations. Complicating this is the very rapid development of technologies that far outpace the ability of States, ICAO and the standards-making organizations to develop regulations.

States face an entirely different set of challenges for simple UAS that are readily available for purchase online and i n hobby or toy stores. These UAS possess capabilities that allow them to be operated relatively easily by untrained individuals, yet they can have catastrophic consequences on the safety of persons, property or other aircraft when used inappropriately. Educating the public on the safe use of these UAS is an urgent challenge.

What is ICAO proposing for the safe, secure and efficient integration of RPAS into non-segregated airspace alongside manned aviation?

RPAS are entering into a transportation system that prides itself as the safest mode of travel and transit. The safety level has been achieved through rigorous review of accidents, incidents and errors. Regulations have evolved as knowledge and experience were gained and oversight of operators and service providers has assured compliance with the changing requirements.

RPA, in order to be integrated with manned aircraft, must be able to act as equal members of the air navigation system. This includes maintaining aircraft in an airworthy state and assuring the components of the RPAS interoperate as intended. The RPAS must have the communication, navigation and surveillance systems appropriate for the airspace or operation. They must additionally operate in a manner that is predictable to other aircraft and air traffic control and comply with the rules and regulations in place. The RPA must be able to detect and avoid hazards and not act in a manner that is hazardous to persons, property or other aircraft. Neither the existing technology nor regulations currently support full integration.

What are the key security issues related to RPAS, the remote pilot station and the command and control link?

RPAS, including the command and control link, must be protected from both intentional and unintentional interference. This is consistent with all aspects of aviation security.

What are the main legal and liability concerns in the use of RPAS?

There are many (too many to address here) new legal issues that will be the subject of SARPs. Liability issues are being studied, however most are likely to be common to those of manned aviation.

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One Comment »

  • Keith Clifford Bell said:

    Just saw this. Very useful summary of then related regulated issues for UAVs – well done Ms. Carey. It would be very helpful to see a follow-up on this later in 2016.

    The issues go beyond those related to civil (and military aviation). Privacy is one such issue where low flying aircraft could arguably impact on the property rights of land owners.

    Ironically we see the generation of a whole new set of acronyms, which are creating confusion.

    The Geospatial community seems to equate UAVs with imagery acquisition only – but the UAV is a platform for the camera. UAVs have many other potential applications and we are hearing more in areas such as parcel delivery (UPS) delivery of medical supplies to remote areas, emergency medical assistance, rescue assistance and so forth. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association has an excellent website setting out issues, applications etc – worth a look.

    Further, UAVs for “mapping” purposes are not new. Cameras were mounted on unmanned balloons and also kites (a little later) from the 1800s! The US is reported to have first used reconnaissance UAVs from around 1964 – Gulf of Tonkin.

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