Any aircraft intended to be flown without a pilot on board is referred to in the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Doc 7300), signed at Chicago on 7 December 1944 and amended by the ICAO Assembly as a “pilotless aircraft”. Today we call these aircraft “unmanned” rather than “pilotless”. Unmanned aircraft (UA) include a broad spectrum from meteorological balloons that fly freely to highly complex aircraft piloted from remote locations by licensed aviation professionals. The latter are part of the category referred to as “remotely piloted aircraft” or RPA that operate as part of a system, a remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS).
RPAS are creating a new industry with large economic potential. They offer a vast range of capabilities and sophistication. Their associated technologies, designs, and operating concepts are evolving rapidly. It is within this context that States are being challenged with the safe and efficient integration of RPAS into environments shared by a highly regulated and well-established manned aircraft industry. The operation of RPAS has been identified as having the potential for significant economic, societal and environmental benefits and the rapid growth of RPAS has caused an increasing demand for them to operate beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) and in airspace open to other aircraft. While such operations are currently allowed, each case must be separately assessed from a safety risk management perspective. There is a need to establish the principles for RPAS operations in all classes of non-segregated airspace. Due to the absence of a pilot on board the aircraft, technical solutions have been developed to control the aircraft through data link from a remote location. The absence of a pilot on board also brings the challenge of matching the ability of the pilot to “see and avoid” and “remain-well-clear” of other traffic and dangerous situations, such as potential collisions with other airspace users or obstacles and severe weather conditions.
Furthermore, the remote pilot must be able to communicate with air traffic control and other airspace users when and where necessary. This challenge means there are aspects that affect most, if not all, sectors of the aviation system. For example, the consideration of novel ATC communication architectures, traffic management procedures, airworthiness approval of technical capability, the potential use of third-party communication service providers, and changes in the regulatory approvals and oversight regimes.
By 2030, a large number of RPA will share the airspace with manned aviation, some will be flying IFR. While some RPAS operations will be conducted in accordance with IFR for a portion of their flight, others will operate only under VFR. Similarly, RPA will operate in and transit through national and international airspace as well as controlled and uncontrolled airspace. These RPA may depart from less congested aerodromes and arrive at similar destination aerodromes, while others may use congested aerodromes.
All RPA will be expected to comply with the applicable procedures and airspace requirements defined by the State, including emergency and contingency procedures, which should be established and coordinated with the respective ANSPs.
These types of operations mean that RPA will need to fly in national and international airspace. Other RPA will only operate at low altitudes, where manned aviation activities are limited. For example, activities such as border protection, environmental uses, and wildfire and utility inspections; these could still mean transiting international airspace.
The key assumption for RPAS is that in order to integrate seamlessly into the airspace, they must, as nearly as practicable, comply with the operational procedures that exist for manned aircraft and flight operations must not present an undue hazard or burden to persons, property, or other aircraft. Furthermore, RPAS operations must not degrade the current level of aviation safety or impair manned aviation safety or efficiency. This applies equally to all operators and all RPA/RPAS. Finally, RPAS should conform to manned aircraft standards to the greatest extent possible. When these principles are not achievable (due to unique RPAS designs or flight characteristics), and no alternate means of compliance are identified, the operation of such RPAS may be subject to safety risk mitigations, such as restricting operations to segregated airspace.