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EU drone regulations – SORA explained

The Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) is a 10-step process to define the safety requirements for flying BVLOS, OOP and other advanced operations in the European Union.

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Share | 09/29/2022

  • The Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) is a 10-step risk process to define the safety requirement for flying BVLOS, OOP and advanced operations safely in the 27 European Member States.
  • eBee drones are the first drones in their class to receive an M2 Ground Mitigation Design Verification from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), providing a simplified SORA authorization process to eBee operators in comparison to heavier UAS.
  • A comprehensive list of free resources and document templates are available from AgEagle to help eBee X series users request authorization.

TABLE OF CONTENT

  1. Introduction
  2. New EU drone regulations framework
  3. Three operational categories
  4. What is SORA?
  5. Ground Risk Class (GRC)
    1. Reducing your final Ground Risk Class
  6. Air Risk Class (ARC)
  7. Specific Assurance and Integrity Level (SAIL)
  8. Operational Safety Objective (OSO)
  9. Helpful resources
  10. SORA approved customers
  11. Additional content on EU drone regulations

Introduction

In Europe, new regulations and processes are being established to ensure Flights Beyond the Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) and Operations Over People (OOP) are conducted safely and responsibly. These advanced drone operations are very efficient options for collecting large amounts of data quickly, but they also come with extra safety and logistical considerations.

AgEagle’s Head of Regulation Pierre-Alain Marchand explains in this blog post the main steps to achieve a SORA authorization to conduct BVLOS and OOP missions under the European drone regulations.

Do you prefer to watch it online? European drone regulations – SORA explained

New EU drone regulations framework

On January 1, 2021, the European Union (EU) started standardizing civil drone regulations across the continent. Prior to this date, drone regulations differed from country to country. By standardizing the rules, the EU aims to make drone operations easier and safer for everyone.

The new rules replace each European Union state’s existing laws and apply to all drone operators. This allows a drone pilot to operate in all the member states, once he or she is registered in one of these countries.

The EU drone regulation is applicable in these 27 European Union member states:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden

Plus: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland (ongoing), UK (partial adoption).

Three operational categories

The EU drone regulation is divided into three categories, Open, Specific and Certified, each detailing accessibility based on the characteristics of the drone platform in use and type of operation.

Certified Category – designated for higher-risk operations such as the delivery of dangerous goods with a drone.

Specific Category – designated for advanced operations such as flying Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS), Operations Over People (OOP), flying multiple drones in fleet, and more.

Open Category – designated for low-risk operations such as Visual Line Of Sight (VLOS) flights under 120 m in altitude.

EU drone regulations overview

If your operation can’t be conducted in the Open Category or is not falling under a standard scenario of the Specific Category, you will require approval from your National Aviation Authority (NAA) according to the SORA methodology.

What is SORA?

SORA stands for Specific Operations Risk Assessment. It’s a 10-step risk process within the EU Specific Category to define the safety requirements to conduct your OOP and BVLOS operations.

In this article, we will focus on 4 SORA crucial steps: 

  • Ground Risk Class (GRC)
  • Air Risk Class (ARC)
  • Specific Assurance and Integrity Level (SAIL)
  • Operational Safety Objective (OSO)

Ground Risk Class (GRC)

SORA contains the following table that you can use to determine the ground risk of your operation.

1. Check the characteristics of your drone, such as size and kinetic energy. This will determine which column of the table your operation will fall.

With its size and cruise speed, the eBee X falls into the first column on the left (1 m / approx. 3 ft).

2. Define the operational scenario (BVLOS / VLOS, populated area / sparsely populated / gathering of people, etc.) This will define in which row of the table your operation will fall.

3. The intersection of the column and row will give you your Ground Risk Class value.

Example: Let’s say you want to do a BVLOS operation over a populated area – your initial ground risk would be 5 as seen in the first column.

Your drone platform of choice can provide you with some benefits through Ground Risk mitigation. See below.

Reducing your final Ground Risk Class (GRC)

It’s possible to reduce the Ground Risk Class with the mitigation M1, M2 and M3.

M1 is a strategic mitigation put into place by the pilot in command before the operation.

M2 – is based on the drone design, you need to prove that the drone has a low risk in case of collision.

M3 – is dependent on the operator’s emergency response plan.

As an industry-leading manufacturer, we have worked with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to get an M2 mitigation of -1 or -2 (-2 with a max flight altitude of 45,7 m / 150 ft above ground level) for eBee X, eBee Geo and eBee Ag drones. Through continued work with EASA, we expect to achieve a higher max flight altitude for -2 in the near future.

The EASA design verification report for M2 mitigation demonstrates that the eBee drones meet the highest possible quality and ground risk safety standards and, thanks to its lightweight design, effects of ground impact are reduced. As such, drone operators conducting advanced drone operations in the 27 European Member States, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland can obtain the HIGH (-2) or MEDIUM (-1) robustness levels of the M2 mitigation without additional verification from EASA.

Example: Going back to our initial Ground Risk of 5, with M2 mitigation, you could reach a Ground Risk as low as 3 for BVLOS operations over a populated area.

Air Risk Class (ARC)

The next step in the process is the Air Risk Assessment. You’ll need to determine which Air Risk Class your operation is conducted in:

ARC – a – If you’re operating in restricted airspace (for example, if a NOTAM is in place).
ARC – b – If you operate in uncontrolled airspace over a rural area.
ARC – c – If you operate in uncontrolled airspace over an urban area.
ARC – d – If you operate in controlled airspace.

It’s important to note that for BVLOS operations in ARC categories b, c, or d, you will need a solution to see and avoid air traffic.

Example: A BVLOS operation with the eBee X that will be conducted over an urban area will fall within the ARC – c.

Similar to the Ground Risk, it’s possible to reduce the initial Air Risk to ARC – b (rural) if traffic is lower than expected. For example, because manned aviation is rare at low altitudes above cities.

Specific Assurance and Integrity Level (SAIL)

Next, you’ll determine the SAIL level of your operation based on the Ground Risk Class (GRC) and the Air Risk Class (ARC).

Example: Using our earlier designations of Ground Risk Class 3 and Air Risk of ARC – b, you can see that the SAIL level would be II, which remains easy to achieve.

There are alternative methods to approval, however, they are not as simple.

Without our mitigation, the SAIL level would be IV, making it more difficult because it requires several months of work and an expensive review of the design by the EASA.

With a larger drone and without mitigation the SAIL level would be a V, making it extremely difficult because you will require a full certification of your solution.

Operational Safety Objective (OSO)

Once you have your SAIL level determined, you need to prove that you comply with each Operational Safety Objective (OSO).

A different level of justification is required based on the SAIL of your operation:

O = Optional
L = Low 
M = Medium
H = High

Finally, we’re able to leverage our SAIL II classification to determine the level of operational safety objectives.

Example: Referencing the above chart using our SAIL II classification, OSO 7 states that light inspection of the UAS (product inspection) is required to ensure consistency with the Concept of Operations (ConOps).

Helpful resources

You’ll need several documents to request authorization from your National Aviation Authority. We’ve created a comprehensive list of document templates that makes the application process smoother for eBee owners:

ConOps – You’ll need to describe when and where you’ll fly, the procedures, your training and details about the drone you’ll use.

Document templates – To facilitate the process and save you tens of hours of paperwork, we’ve prepared a set of documentation you can adapt for your own SAIL I or SAIL II operation.

Direct contact – For more information or to request document templates, contact us at regulatory@ageagle.com.

SORA approved customers

There have already been some early adopters of SORA, who have taken advantage of the eBee X M2 mitigation when seeking approvals from their National Aviation Authorities.

Safe Drone Academy is based in Ireland and has been approved for VLOS over populated areas.

Romania-based SysCAD Solutions is approved for BVLOS operations over sparsely populated and populated areas.

DISCLAIMER

AgEagle Aerial Systems Inc provides this information for informational purposes only. The texts, graphics, images, and references don’t constitute legal advice. While we try to keep the information timely and accurate, we make no guarantees. AgEagle Aerial Systems Inc. is not liable for the actions taken based on this document’s information.

Additional content

GuideAdvanced drone operations: BVLOS, OOP, multi-drone

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