Aviation Authority Requirements

Aviation authorities often classify aircraft in terms of their take-off weights and adjust the regulatory framework accordingly. In the UK, this is currently based on the dry maximum take-off weight (i.e., the maximum weight without fuel). Following such an approach, small aircraft of the type this book discusses are typically categorized into groups: for example, aircraft weighing less than 7 kg, those from 7 to 20 kg, and those from 20 to 150 kg. Generally for aircraft in the heavier range, the operators must supply significant additional material to the regulator to demonstrate the airworthiness of the airframe before any permission to fly will be granted. In this section we will therefore discuss aircraft in a notional 20-50 kg category since dealing with lighter airframes normally just involves a subset of these requirements.

Small Unmanned Fixed-wing Aircraft Design: A Practical Approach, First Edition. Andrew J. Keane, Andras Sobester and James P. Scanlan.

©2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2017 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Aircraft certification is a complex and, in the case of unmanned air systems (UASs),[1] a rapidly evolving field. The Aviation Authority always need to establish that the aircraft to be flown is itself airworthy and also that the operators can safely fly it, while ensuring that such flights do not infringe the relevant laws, particularly with respect to where the aircraft flies. Often, the Authority has separate divisions concerned with airworthiness and flight operations, and when planning to fly heavier aircraft, both divisions must be satisfied.[2] Generally, initial airworthiness is established by the submission of suitable documentation on the airframe, often followed by an inspection by suitably qualified staff - if the Authority is satisfied that the design and build team are appropriately experienced, they may, at their discretion, waive the need for airframe inspections. The operations division will be concerned with where flights are to be carried out and for what purposes. They will be particularly concerned with the skills of the pilot, the precise flight paths, and their likely duration. Sufficient details will need to be documented and supplied to convince the Authority that the intended flights are safe and legal. Major concerns will be the likelihood of any forced landings or excursions outside the planned flight airspace. To help operators produce satisfactory documentation, many authorities publish an “Operations Manual Template”, which will be divided into major parts and numerous subject sections, see, for example, Tables 19.1-19.4. To meet these various requirements, our practice is to work on four separate but linked documents:

  • 1. A system description. This describes the aircraft and the ground-based control systems and includes a full parts list.
  • 2. An operations manual. This sets out how to set up, check, fuel, fly, recover, and maintain the aircraft and its GCSs.
  • 3. A safety case. This details all the possible failure modes, what their likelihoods are, and any mitigations in place to reduce the scope for harm.
  • 4. A flight planning manual. This describes the flight location, the operational team, the missions to be flown, and the data to be recorded.

In what follows we set out how we construct these documents, but it is stressed that this is not the only way of presenting information to the certifying authority - this is what works for us. By using a strict version control and release approval approach to these documents, it also helps us keep a record of the state of the aircraft at any given time (all our documents include tabulated version control lists, indicating what changes each new version has included and where these have been made in the manual). It is inevitable when developing a new airframe design that early flights will reveal changes in the design that will be beneficial in some way or another. The great temptation is to simply make these changes in an ad hoc and undocumented manner. Not only is this a poor approach to professional design but it also means that the airframe can stray away from the design approved by the regulators: clearly any significant changes must be agreed with the approving body before the aircraft is flown. Equally, the regulator will not wish every trivial change on the airfield to result in a renewed application for permission to fly. A degree of judgment will be called for, as will a good working relationship with the team at the regulating authority.

Table 19.1 Typical small UAS operations manual template part Ai.




Part A




Brief list of the OM contents


Introductory statement including outline of operations

Include statement of compliance with any permission and the requirement that operational instructions contained within the manual are to be adhered to by all personnel involved in the operation



Include any common acronyms if necessary


Document control and amendment process


To ensure that the OM remains up to date and that different versions are not being used. Amendments should be sent to the Authority. Suggest including a version number


Structure of organization and management lines

Organogram and brief description


Nominated personnel

As appropriate, for example, Operations Manager, Technical Manager, Chief Pilot, Other Pilots


Responsibility and duties of the Person in Charge of the UAS

Articles 86, 87, and 166 of the UK Air Navigation Order, 2009, may provide some useful text for this section as determined by the operator (despite relevance to manned aircraft in the case of 86/87)


Responsibility and duties of support personnel in the operation of the UAS

Operators may use an assistant to help with the operation of the aircraft. Give a brief description of this person’s responsibilities and duties


Brief technical description of UAS and roles

Full technical description can be in technical manuals or added as an appendix


Area of operation

Geographic scope, and so on. Likely operating areas - for example, building sites, open countryside, roads, and so on


Operating limitations and conditions

Minimum and maximum operating conditions in compliance with the regulations and conditions of any Authority permission

  • [1] The UAV and its ground control system or GCS.
  • [2] Note that all aircraft operators should consult their local aviation authority to establish current air regulations beforeflying.
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