Rise of the Drone – Joseph Ghio


Malta is quickly taking the lead in the certification of drone operators under Part C of Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/947. The Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC) enables organisations to self-authorise drone operators without the need for applying for an authorisation or recognition from the Civil Aviation Directorate of Transport Malta (TM- CAD) or other European civil aviation authorities.

LUC certification follows a determination by TM-CAD of the drone operator’s ability to assess operational risk itself, granting the LUC operator certain privileges to self-authorise drone operations across all EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) member countries. In many ways a LUC is therefore for drones what an Air Operator Certificate (AOC) is for regular airlines, certifying across all the EU that the LUC organisation can conduct safe drone operations, sometimes including Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) operations.

The anticipated exponential increase in the adoption of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) mobilised the European Union into introducing Regulation 2019/947 and Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 containing the first detailed set of European rules for the design and operation of drones. This legal framework, directly applicable to all EU Member states, establishes a basic set of common standards spanning drone registration, to geo-awareness and remote identification. It is the backbone of what has been styled as the EU’s “U-Space” Package, based on the now no longer sci-fi premise that all airspace needs to be made accessible for the safe operation of drones.

As part of the “U-Space” Package, three new EU regulations (2021/664, 2021/665 and 2021/666) were adopted in April 2021, becoming directly applicable on 26 January 2023. The first LUC approval in the EU was issued to renown surveillance drone manufacturer Schiebel by Austro Control, the Austrian CAA, in February 2021. Norway granted its first LUC approval in April 2021 to Nordic Unmanned servicing the maritime, security, infrastructure and logistics markets.

Malta granted the sixth LUC approval in the EU to global manufacturer of long-range unmanned helicopter systems Swiss Drones in May 2022 quickly followed, also in May 2022, by the LUC granted to leading middle-cargo drone developer and operator Dronamics of the Black Swan fame. Dronamics are currently ramping up operations with a view to start commercial flights out of Malta and Taranto, Italy later this year.

Malta is probably the only EU member state to have already issued LUCs to multiple operators, a testament to TM-CADs commitment to lead the pack in the regulation of UAV operations. The process of obtaining a LUC approval requires the submission of a detailed UAS Operator Application Form together with a set of documents, including a LUC Operations Manual and Statement of Compliance. The application fee currently charged by TM-CAD is Eur 2,000.

Whilst the regulatory framework will continue to evolve, there is no question that UAVs are heralding a new exciting age in aviation.