Across the globe, aviation regulators are struggling with the same questions. How should unmanned aircraft be operated? Who should operate them? Should they be registered? Should there be different regulations based on aircraft weight or performance or both? For most countries, the answers to these questions are remarkably similar.
Just this week, the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency announced new regulations covering unmanned aircraft registration and operation. Russia has decided to adopt the same 250 gram threshold for aircraft registration that the FAA adopted last month. On the operational side, the new Russian rules require a minimum of a two man crew – a pilot and an observer. While this is the same requirement for a Section 333 exemption holder in the United States, it is worth noting that when Part 107 goes into effect, the visual observer will be recommended, but not required.
The Russian approach to the airspace issues posed by UAS differs from the FAA’s approach. Currently, exemption holders in the US are free to fly below 200 feet and away from airports without giving any advance notice under the blanket COA. If operators want to fly closer to airports or above 200′, they have to get a separate COA. Under the Russian system, it appears that all UAS operators will have to file a flight plan in advance and are only able to deviate from it under emergency situations where it is necessary for public safety.
So, is this a situation where the Russians are simply “copying” the FAA? The answer is “yes and no.” Because the problems of integrating UAS are similar no matter where you are, the solutions to those problems are going to be similar. In addition, it should be kept in mind that national aviation regulatory agencies are, historically, very outward looking and internationally focused. As far back as the 1920s, when the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air (commonly known as the Warsaw Convention) was adopted, it was recognized that uniformity and reciprocity would be the cornerstone of aviation. While there are no real international commercial unmanned aircraft operations now, everyone knows that day is coming, and each nation has its eyes on what the other is doing and is working to be ready.
So, while there is a certain amount of copying going on between nations, that is a good thing. It is an important step towards full integration of UAS into not just national airspace, but international airspace.