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A Tale of two regulatory systems for drones

A tale of two regulatory systems for drones

This series of three articles comprehensively compares the EASA and FAA regulatory requirements for drones, focusing purely on factual content without personal bias. Before delving into this piece, readers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the prerequisite articles:

  • Link to Article 1

  • Link to Article 2


Our exploration is grounded in the understanding that while the FAA and EASA share a common objective—the safety of airspace users—their operational frameworks differ, driven by distinct regulatory underpinnings that shape their respective approaches and expectations.

Funding Models:

The FAA, funded through a combination of general tax revenues and aviation-specific taxes, charges fees for select services but not for core activities like air traffic control or aircraft certification. This model reflects that a safe and efficient air traffic system serves the public interest, enhancing national security and economic well-being.

Conversely, EASA's model relies on service fees to sustain its operations, drawing from EU budget allocations and charges to the aviation industry. This approach aligns the cost of regulation with those it serves, ensuring EASA's autonomy and financial stability, vital for maintaining safety standards and adapting to the aviation sector's dynamic nature.

Rulemaking Processes:

The FAA's rulemaking procedures, detailed in 14 CFR Part 11, involve extensive pre-rulemaking activities, a regulatory evaluation phase, and a detailed cost-benefit analysis as mandated by the OMB's Circular A-4. This process, influenced by various acts and executive orders, emphasizes the economic impact of regulations.

In opposition, EASA, based on Regulation (EU) No 2018/1139, involves a multi-layered approval process with stakeholder engagement across the EU. It focuses on impact assessments without an explicit mandate for societal cost analysis. Differences lie in the FAA's detailed economic evaluation and EASA's broader stakeholder consensus approach within the EU's legislative framework.

The Safety Frameworks: FAA Safety Continuum and EASA's Proportionality Concept

The FAA's Safety Continuum is a scalable risk-based approach that calibrates safety oversight to match the size and complexity of the operation. It employs tools like exemptions, COAs, and Type Certifications to manage the integration of UAS into national airspace proportionate to the associated risks.

EASA mirrors this with a tiered structure—categorizing UAS operations as 'Open', 'Specific', and 'Certified', based on risk level—imposing varying regulatory requirements, accordingly, detailed in the preceding article here.

Societal Demand for Safety Assurance

Figure 3 illustrates how societal expectations for safety assurance escalate with the complexity of vehicles and their operations, particularly as passengers become less involved in risk management. For instance, the public expects more stringent safety protocols from commercial airliners than from smaller general aviation aircraft. This demand for safety assurance is not uniform; it varies significantly between regions, such as Europe and North America, due to cultural, regulatory, and operational differences. Such variations shape risk perception and, consequently, the development of aviation regulations. Understanding these societal nuances is crucial for comprehending the unique safety architectures of the FAA and EASA, even as both organizations are committed to maintaining the integrity of safety standards. The interplay between risks, rewards, and culture is dynamic and complex. Culture shapes the perception of what is considered an acceptable risk and what rewards are valued. In turn, the outcomes of taking risks can reinforce or challenge cultural norms and values. For example, successful innovation can lead to a cultural shift towards valuing risk-taking and creativity. Similarly, experiencing negative consequences from risk-taking can lead to a more cautious cultural approach. FAA Part 107 or TCCA CAR IX's successful implementation shapes new regulations. The US views failure more as a stepping stone to success, an integral part of the innovation process. In contrast, European cultures may view failure more negatively as something to be avoided. This can cause differences in regulatory requirements.

Achieving Interoperability:

Interoperability is essential for the seamless operation of UAS across different jurisdictions. The harmonization of FAA and EASA regulations seeks to establish common standards, mutual recognition of certifications, and acceptance of operator qualifications, thus facilitating cross-border UAS operations and maintaining an aligned level of safety oversight.

As we advance, it is crucial for both the FAA and EASA to:

  1. Harmonize risk categorization, ensuring UAS operations adhere to a globally coherent risk assessment framework.

  2. Recognize certifications reciprocally, allowing for the fluid movement of drones between jurisdictions without redundant certification processes.

  3. Align training and qualifications for drone operators, thereby simplifying international operations.

The goal is to foster an integrated aviation safety system that upholds the highest safety standards while accommodating the rapid evolution of UAS technologies and applications.

EASA Open Category vs FAA Part 107:

Both the FAA and EASA mandate UAS operator certification, operational restrictions, and registration to ensure knowledge of safety practices. FAA Part 107 requires an aeronautical knowledge test, while EASA demands online training for its Open Category. Operational limits include height and visual line of sight restrictions, differing slightly between the two. Drone registration is required, with the threshold set at drones over 0.55 pounds.

The FAA and EASA have distinct approaches to drone operations, particularly regarding flights over people and moving vehicles. Per Figure 4, The FAA permits drone flights over people, delineating specific conditions based on the drone's weight and the potential for injury across four categories within Part 107 regulations. It also specifies conditions under which drones can fly over moving vehicles. In contrast, EASA categorizes drone operations based on proximity to uninvolved people, with the Open Category divided into subcategories (A1, A2, A3) that set different requirements based on the drone's class and proximity to people rather than focusing on flights over them. This differentiation underscores the FAA's direct approach to managing flights over people and vehicles, while EASA's framework emphasizes distance from uninvolved individuals and integrates specific operational requirements within its subcategories.

FAA and EASA Specific Category

The Specific Category operates as an intermediary between the Open and Certified Categories, accommodating a wider spectrum of drone operations by balancing flexibility with safety. While the FAA and EASA concur on the Open Category's parameters, their approaches diverge when delineating the Specific Category's scope. EASA provides clear demarcations across the Open, Specific, and Certified Categories, including the transitions between these categories, ensuring a structured regulatory environment for European drone operations.

For operations classified under the Specific Category, EASA mandates European operators to secure operational authorization from their National Aviation Authority (NAA), aligning their operations with established risk profiles. This framework is facilitated through various pathways, such as the Standard Scenario (STS) Declaration for routine operations and the Pre-Defined Risk Assessment (PDRA) for those fitting predefined risk assessments. More complex operations might necessitate a Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) or a Design Verification Report (DVR), with the Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC) enabling experienced operators to self-authorize their operations under specific conditions.

Conversely, the FAA employs Exception 44807, an evolution of the Section 333 exemption, within its broader U.S. regulatory framework. This provision enables the Secretary of Transportation to decide if certain UAS operations can safely occur within the National Airspace System (NAS) without an airworthiness certificate. Notably, while this exemption is in use, operators also have the option to pursue the Durability and Reliability (D&R) type certificate process for higher SAIL levels, indicating a versatile yet structured approach to UAS operational approval.

The FAA's approach through Exception 44807, grounded in operational assessments supplemented by certain airworthiness criteria from the Durability and Reliability standards, appears more akin to a guided self-assessment with regulatory oversight. This method contrasts with EASA's structured pathways, which include functional testing for compliance in specific risk categories under the FTB MoC for lower SAIL levels and other MoCs for higher SAIL levels after conversion.

Despite the harmonization efforts within the Certification Management Team DroneSquad, discrepancies in risk classification, definitions, and operational requirements persist, attributed to the distinct regulatory frameworks of the FAA and EASA. These differences, encompassing aspects such as flight test hour requirements and ground risk calculation methodologies, underscore the challenges in achieving full interoperability between U.S. and European UAS operations.

To better understand the differences, go to the following link. Here is a summary of the differences:

  1. The FAA utilizes a Durability and Reliability (D&R) or the Exemption 44807 CMD approach for approval, requiring operational flight tests to gather safety data. In contrast, EASA employs a Functional Test-Based Means of Compliance (FTB MoC) for SAIL III and below, which allows compliance demonstration through functional tests for UAS operating in specific risk categories. The FAA uses flight demonstration for a higher level of SAIL if the conversion is done.

  2. The FAA adopts a Durability and Reliability (D&R) methodology or the Exemption 44807 CMD pathway to authorize UAS operations, mandating practical operational flight testing to accrue safety data. On the flip side, EASA utilizes a Functional Test-Based Means of Compliance (FTB MoC) for UAS within the SAIL III bracket and lower, permitting the use of functional testing as a means to demonstrate compliance for UAS operating in designated risk categories. If the conversion is done for UAS with higher SAIL, the FAA similarly requires flight demonstrations to validate compliance.

  3. EASA leverages the SAIL within the SORA methodology to establish the Risks and requirements for UAS operations. The FAA does not use SORA since it uses FAA Order 8040.6 and FAA Order 8040.4. Comparing the risk classification is difficult, which may impact interoperability. Refer to this article.

  4. Each authority uses different definitions and terms, which may lead to varying requirements. For instance, EASA has specific definitions for flight envelopes and emergency procedures not found in FAA standards. Many requirements are different, or the safety intent is not similar.

  5. There is a disparity in the required flight test hours for certification. EASA’s FTB approach generally requires a set number of hours (e.g., 3000 for SAIL III), while the FAA’s hours can vary widely based on the operational environment and mitigations employed for the same operational environment, thus driving different drone system architecture.

  6. The calculation of the ground risk presents differences, too.

  7. The EASA Operational Manual offers detailed Standard Operating Procedures and aircraft flying procedures, contrasting with the FAA's Unmanned Flight Manual, which prioritizes equipping the Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC) with crucial flight performance information, separating it from standard procedures. Moreover, the FAA emphasizes configuration control and documentation requirements more than some EU NAA. Although these documents aim to enhance safety, their structure and emphasis differences could challenge operators moving between the FAA and EASA frameworks.


The Specific Category Bridges Open and Certified Categories, with EASA and FAA offering distinct regulatory paths for drone operations. EASA's clear category definitions contrast with the FAA's flexible exemption approach. Despite efforts at harmonization, differences in risk classification, requirements, and methodologies highlight the ongoing challenge of achieving interoperability between U.S. and European UAS regulations.


  1. FAA CPP-D&R-1.1, Certification Basis for Unmanned Aircraft Utilizing Durability and Reliability

  2. FAA CPP-D&R-2.1, Means of Compliance for Unmanned Aircraft Utilizing Durability and Reliability

  3. FAA Memorandum AIR600-21-600-DM01, Revision 1 Deviation for the Certification of Low-Risk Unmanned Aircraft

  4. FAA Memorandum AIR600-21-600-DM02, Deviation to Order 8110.118, Commercial Parts, to Facilitate Use of Commercial Parts for Low-Risk Unmanned Aircraft Systems;

  5. FAA Memorandum AIR600-21-AIR-600-PM-01, FAA Approval of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Special Class U.A. Projects and their Associated Elements

  6. Amazon Prime Air – FAA-2019-0573 Petition Exemption Under 49 U.S.C. § 44807 and 14 C.F.R. Parts 61, 91, and 135

  7. UPS Part 135 exemption FAA-2019-0652


  9. EASA SC Light-UAS Medium Risk Issue 1 (17.12.2020) and High Risk (22.12.2022), Special Condition for Light Unmanned Aircraft Systems -

  10. FTB MOC SC Light UAS Issue 1 (26.05.2022), Means of Compliance to Special Condition Light UAS for UAS operated in SAIL III and below

  11. EASA Easy Access Rules for Unmanned Aircraft Systems as of September 2022, AMC1 Article 11 Rules for conducting an operational risk assessment. Source JARUS SORA V2.0

  12. EASA Design Verification Compliance matrix (correlation between OSOs and S.C. requirements)

  13. Guidelines on Design verification of UAS operated in the 'specific' category and classified in SAIL III and IV

  14. Draft JARUS SORA 2.5 dated 08.11.2022, released for public comments until March 6, 2023

  15. ASTM F3478-20, Standard Practice for Development of a Durability and Reliability Flight Demonstration Program for Low-Risk Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) under FAA Oversight




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