Urban Air Mobility – Operation of Air Taxis – Part 2

In Part 1 of “Urban Air Mobility – Operation of Air Taxis” we focused on the legal requirements for the operation of manned air taxis. In Part 2 we would like to focus on the legal requirements for the operation of unmanned air taxis.

What’s the legal framework?

As mentioned in Part 1, before September 2018, there was no legal framework for the operation of air taxis at all. Then EU-regulation 2018/1139 came into force. Apart from harmonising the legal framework for the operation of drones and setting out a legal framework for the operation of manned air taxis, the EU-regulation also establishes a basic legal framework for the operation of unmanned air taxis. Section VII deals explicitly with unmanned aircrafts.

What are the legal requirements?

According to EU-regulation 2018/1139, the design, production, maintenance as well as operation of unmanned aircrafts must comply with the “essential requirements” set out in its Annex IX.

Essential requirements

Annex IX stipulates that the operator and the remote pilot of an unmanned aircraft must be particularly aware of all rules with regard to safety, privacy, data protection, liability, insurance, security and environmental protection. Also, they must be able to ensure the safety of the operation.

The unmanned aircraft must be designed and constructed so that it is fit for its intended function, and can be operated, adjusted and maintained without putting persons at risk.

As one can see, the requirements set out in Annex IX are held rather broadly. In order to ensure the uniform implementation of and the compliance with those essential requirements, the EU-legislator has authorised the EU-Commission to issue implementing acts. Further, the EU-Commission is empowered to adopt delegated acts for the design, production and maintenance of unmanned aircraft.

On October 8th, 2018, the EU-Commission presented a draft implementing regulation on the regulations and procedures for the operation of unmanned aircraft. The final adoption of the draft implementing regulation, however, is still pending.

Risk-based approach

The draft implementing regulation takes a risk-based approach. Unmanned aircrafts shall be divided into three categories: an open, a specific and a certified category. The classification will depend on the expected operational risk of the unmanned aircraft.

  • Unmanned aircrafts operating under the open category shall not be subject to any prior authorisation, nor to an operational declaration by the aircraft operator.
  • Unmanned aircrafts operating under the specific category shall require an operational authorisation issued by the competent authority or a declaration issued by the aircraft operator.
  • Unmanned aircrafts operating under the certified category shall require certification of the aircraft and operator and licensing of the remote pilot where applicable.

According to the draft implementing regulation, unmanned air taxis operating for the transport of people shall be allocated to the certified category.

Certified category

As mentioned before, unmanned aircrafts operating under the certified category shall require certifications of the aircraft and operator and licensing of the remote pilot where applicable. As a result the operation of unmanned air taxis will require:

  • an operating license, which requires an air operator certificate and
  • a type certificate.

The prerequisites for obtaining an operating licence for the operation of unmanned air taxis are also set out in EU-regulation 1008/2008. With regard to obtaining an air operator certificate, the draft implementing regulation refers to EU-regulation 965/2012. Thus, an air operator certificate will be issued in accordance with the regulations applicable to manned air taxis. Finally, the issuance of a type certificate will – as of now – also be subject to the regulations applicable to manned air taxis.

Conclusion

The establishment of a legal framework for the operation of unmanned air taxis has just started. By implementing EU-regulation 2018/1139, the EU has taken a first major step. However, numerous questions are left unanswered. Where will air taxis be allowed to take off and land? At what altitude will they be allowed to fly? It’s up to the EU-Commission to now adopt implementing regulations as well as delegated acts. In addition, the national legislations will have to do their part to further enable the implementation of air taxi business models.

It’s safe to say that the future of air taxis depends on politics.