We had the chance to interview EASA’s Drone’s Project Manager (Certified Category) Giuseppe Scannapieco, who told us about the shift from crewed to uncrewed aircraft at scale. He began by mentioning how the simple shift from taking the pilot from the air to the ground isn’t a substantial one, but you’re still missing an important element when it comes to the chain of safety. That’s why EASA is careful when it comes to how they enable these approaches and the regulatory framework that goes along with them.
There needs to be a significant shift in the mindset when the transition from airborne to ground-based operations happens, and one of these elements includes who will take responsibility for flight safety procedures, which is currently unclear. Giuseppe explained that, if something were to happen, the pilot might blame the manufacturer or the manufacturer might blame the operator for an accident. Current regulatory frameworks still need to catch up to account for this.
EASA is currently taking inspiration from the military, who have successfully conducted remote pilot operations for more than 20 years. Regulators are learning from these experiences, but they are also adapting them to the operational concepts of civilian drone operations. The biggest challenge they’re currently facing is that it’s simple to remotely pilot a single aircraft, but when this scales to 50 to 100 aircraft, things get exponentially more difficult, which is why the scale of operations plays a huge role in this discussion.
Giuseppe introduced the role of autonomous aircraft by saying that there is currently no technology capable of enabling autonomous flight at scale, but the regulatory framework they’re going to develop in the next 5 years will account for these inevitable innovations. This includes looking specifically at the level of autonomisation and the different ways of accommodating this properly along with the consequences of allowing this to happen in terms of who is responsible or liable when things go wrong.
That’s why autonomy is a subject that will be addressed in the future, but is currently on hold for now. Giuseppe emphasised again how autonomy will bring into question who is responsible when things go wrong. Will it be the aircraft manufacturer, the operator or the software developer? The question isn’t immediately clear and is likely to take time before an appropriate regulatory framework is developed to address this.
Other experts from the sector and related organisations have also recently spoken about these worries and the potential for autonomy in aviation. It's known that autonomous flights provide a number of advantages, including increased efficiency, lower costs, and increased safety. Before complete autonomy is attained, there are risks and difficulties that must be overcome.
The degree of automation in autonomous flight adds to the issue. The experts agreed that although there are many levels of automation, from partial to full autonomy, we are still a long way from reaching full autonomy. Humans are still involved in the process no matter how much automation there is and the level of autonomy depends on the level of automation. In the case of autonomy, the human is cut off from the process, and the technology is in charge.
Aviation autonomy overall has the potential to have a number of positive effects, but it also poses issues that need to be resolved. Safety, accountability, and liability must be clearly defined and handled as the sector, and regulatory authorities strive for complete autonomy.
You can see more about the shift from crewed to uncrewed aviation today at Amsterdam Drone Week in the workshop “Remote Pilot-In-Command (RPIC) responsibilities / shared operational responsibility” in room D203 at 11:15–12:45
Giuseppe Scannapieco has over two decades of experience in the aviation industry. Currently based in Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Giuseppe serves as the Drones Project Manager at EASA, where he has been employed for more than 11 years.
In his current role, Giuseppe leads, manages and coordinates a team of experts in various aviation disciplines that are defining the overall regulatory framework for drones. Prior to this, he held positions as Senior Project Certification Manager for Initial Airworthiness for Large Aeroplanes and Large Aircraft Project Certification Manager at EASA. In these roles, he managed and performed core technical and administrative processes of complex certification projects, contributing to the definition of working methods and policies and ensuring compliance with EASA safety standards.
Before joining EASA, Giuseppe spent over seven years with Aeronautica Militare, working on a wide range of projects involving aircraft and helicopter systems, flight test management, and certification processes. He held various leadership positions, including Section Leader and Deputy Section Leader, and was responsible for overseeing numerous projects such as the evaluation of flares' safe separation during airdrop operations, the qualification of heavy loads airdrop operations with PURIBAD platform and the integration of role equipment for search and rescue operations on Block 6.1 KC-130J.
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