The Rise of Drones and Malta’s Light UAS Operator Certificate, LUC

Drones are seemingly everywhere and used for new and different tasks every day. The consumer-oriented drones that have become so popular are only a tiny segment of the market. The need for industrialised drones for commercial purposes is on the increase. 

Companies in supply chain operations are deploying drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The drones serve in a wide variety of roles that make some tasks that were previously very time-consuming and labour-intensive, highly efficient, less expensive, and significantly improve worker safety when deployed properly. Examples of this is for carrying out inspection and monitoring, aerial surveillance, search and rescue missions beyond visual line of sight. 

The transportation and logistics environment has taken to drones in several arenas because of their ability to manoeuvre around and above otherwise difficult to reach areas like warehouses and shipping container ports and terminals. And part of their repertoire includes multiple ways to communicate and share information.

Drones that fall into the Specific Category

Considering the moderate level of risk involved, flights in this category require authorisation before they can operate. The permission is taking into consideration the mitigation measures identified in an operational risk assessment. For specific standard scenarios an operator declaration is sufficient.

The Maltese agency responsible for drone safety and licensing is the Civil Aviation Directorate (CAD). 

Flying and operating drones in Malta are subject to European Union Regulation 2019/947. The Malta Civil Aviation Directorate (CAD) supervises and implements the Regulation in Malta. This reform aims to create consistency for the highest level of safety in the drone market within Europe. Once a drone Οperator has received authorisation from the State of registry they will be allowed to manoeuvre in the European Union freely. There are three categories of drone operations, Open, Specific and Certified each according to the level of risk involved.

Drone operations are to be conducted according to the Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945 and Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 (as amended).

When the CAD is satisfied, it will issue a light UAS operator certificate (LUC) and assign privileges to the drone operators based on their level of maturity. 

The LUC privileges may allow the organisation to

• Conduct operations covered by standard scenarios without submitting the declaration;

• self-authorise operations conducted by the drone operator and covered by a PDRA without applying for an authorisation;

• self-authorise all operations conducted by the drone operator without applying for an authorisation.

What is a LUC

The LUC is an optional operational certificate which, if obtained, guarantees some privileges to its holder. The highest privilege may be the possibility to start operations in the specific category without needing an operational authorisation by the NAA. The availability of LUC certification represents a quantum change in the efficiency of drone aerial services, while ensuring safe conditions. Many working hours can be saved by speeding the process that otherwise would halt any work waiting for an authorisation to be formalised and approved.

Who can apply for a LUC?

Only operators with a legal entity are eligible to apply for a LUC. However, some of the activities contained in the manual can be subcontracted.

Regulatory reference: UAS.LUC.010.

LUC’s validity

The validity of a LUC is unlimited, as long as the organisation remains compliant with its LUC’s requirements. An organisation with a LUC can be subject to an oversight inspection by its competent NAA. A LUC can be revoked or surrender by the awarding NAA. A LUC certificate is valid throughout the European Union.

Regulatory reference: UASE.LUC.080 of EU regulation 2019/947.

How will compliance with the drone’s technical requirements be verified by the organisation under the LUC?

The technical requirements applicable to the drone will be derived by the risk assessment and are independent from the fact that an organisation may hold an LUC. They will depend on the specific assurance and integrity level (e.g. SAIL in SORA) of the operation, the technical mitigations applied (e.g. mitigation M2 in SORA) and the requirements on containment (e.g. step 9 of SORA).

Regulatory reference: article 12 of EU regulation 2012/947.

General requirements to obtain a LUC certificate

Operators must prove that they work in a structured way applying the basic elements of the safety management system, ensuring that flights are carried out safely, with control over planning, implementation, maintenance and back office administration. Criteria includes but are not limited to the following:

  • safety management system to ensure that potential risks to aviation are effectively mitigated and managed;
  • Staff have the necessary remote pilot competencies along with planning, implementation, maintenance and administrative skills and competencies required for aspects such as daily operations, risk analysis and documentation;
  • Maintaining and managing a documentation system, keeping a log of relevant operating data accessible by the relevant NAA if necessary;
  • An operating LUC safety manual, covering a safety policy, objectives and including roles and responsibilities in the organisation concerning drone operations as well as where procedures and activities are documented, including emergency procedures.

A LUC is not…

It is not a “blank check” to do anything the organisation wants. The LUC holder can only conduct the operations described within the LUC terms of approval . This is why operating with a LUC certificate is both a great benefit and a responsibility.

We can act as your local advisor to assist you with processing the application with the relevant authority Transport Malta. Contact us today to have a call to discuss your project.