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Navigating UAS Safety Management: JARUS SORA and FAA Order 8040.4 with Insights on Safety Assurance

Updated: May 19

FAA Order 8040.4 and JARUS SORA

In the intricate and fast-paced domain of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), the imperative for robust safety management frameworks is undeniable. It ensures that the forward march of technological and operational advancements does not come at the cost of safety for individuals and the airspace. The JARUS Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) and FAA Order 8040.4 are beacons of global and national endeavors toward effective UAS safety risk management. While possessing unique attributes, methodologies, and scopes, these frameworks also share significant commonalities, highlighting the universal tenets of UAS safety management.


One key distinction between the FAA and EASA lies not in the frameworks themselves but in their implementation and interpretation, such as the methods used for calculating population density. This variance underscores how identical safety concepts can be applied differently, reflecting regional approaches and priorities in addressing UAS operational risks.


The Distinctions

JARUS SORA is recognized for its international applicability and detailed, stepwise risk assessment approach tailored to specific UAS operations. It emphasizes upfront risk evaluation and mitigation, offering a more qualitative perspective on risk management without a stringent requirement for continuous safety assurance or quantifying risk likelihood post-implementation.


FAA Order 8040.4 delineates the Safety Risk Management (SRM) principles within the FAA's encompassing Safety Management System (SMS). This order advocates for persistent safety assurance to validate the efficacy of risk controls over time pertinent to the U.S. national airspace system. It underscores a methodical improvement cycle for safety risk management, mandating the quantification of risk likelihood.


Clarifying SORA's Safety Assurance Process

It's crucial to address a common misconception regarding the SORA methodology. The SORA framework incorporates a safety assurance process to ensure that risks identified through the assessment are effectively mitigated, facilitating the safe conduct of the intended operation.


1. SORA Framework and Assurance Process:

  • The SORA outlines a comprehensive methodology for risk assessment, including hazard identification, risk assessment, mitigation implementation, and documentation.


  • While SORA does not prescribe specific assurance methods, it encourages operators to adopt suitable assurance techniques reflecting the operation's complexity and risk. These could range from technical inspections and pilot training evaluations to operational procedure reviews or independent audits.


2. EASA's Implementation and Assurance Levels:

  • Under EASA's purview, operators engaged in specific category drone operations are mandated to conduct a SORA. EASA's Acceptable Means of Compliance (AMC) guidance delineates different levels of assurance (low, medium, high) based on the operation's Specific Assurance and Integrity Level (SAIL).


  • This framework implies a need for operators to align their assurance measures with their operation's SAIL classification, necessitating more stringent assurance for higher-risk operations.


Navigating UAS Safety Management: JARUS SORA and FAA Order 8040.4 with Updates on Quantitative Shifts

A notable distinction currently lies in the methodological approaches of SORA 2.0 and FAA Order 8040.4. Specifically, SORA 2.0 adopts a qualitative approach to risk assessment, focusing on descriptive analysis and evaluation of risks associated with UAS operations.


n contrast, FAA Order 8040.4 employs a quantitative approach, requiring numerical analysis and the quantification of risk likelihoods and severities to manage safety risks effectively. This fundamental difference highlights the varied strategies each framework employs to address the complexities of unmanned aerial systems safety management.


Evolution in JARUS SORA: Towards a Quantitative Approach

JARUS SORA 2.0 has been recognized for its qualitative approach to assessing and mitigating risks for specific UAS operations, emphasizing a comprehensive, step-wise risk assessment process. While effective, this approach has primarily been qualitative, focusing on identifying hazards, assessing risks, and implementing mitigation measures without requiring a quantified likelihood of risk occurrence.


However, the landscape is changing. JARUS is currently working on updates, specifically SORA 2.5 and the forthcoming SORA 3.0, which signify a shift towards a quantitative process. This evolution aims to define the probability of fatality for both ground and air risks, marking a significant move from a predominantly qualitative to a more quantitative risk assessment methodology.


This transition reflects an effort to provide more definitive risk analysis and management tools that can cater to the complex nature of UAS operations, enhancing the precision of safety measures and mitigation strategies.


FAA Order 8040.4: A Quantitative Foundation

FAA Order 8040.4, on the other hand, has already established a requirement for a quantitative assessment of risks within its Safety Risk Management (SRM) policy. This order mandates ongoing safety assurance activities, emphasizing a systematic and continuous improvement cycle for safety risk management, including quantifying risk likelihood. Such a quantitative basis for risk assessment and management allows for a more objective and measurable approach to identifying and mitigating potential hazards associated with UAS and other aviation operations.


Implications for UAS Safety Management

The shift in JARUS SORA towards a more quantitative framework, alongside the already quantitative foundation of FAA Order 8040.4, underscores a broader industry trend toward data-driven safety management. This move towards quantification in both frameworks highlights the importance of adopting nuanced, rigorous risk assessment methodologies that accurately reflect modern UAS operations' complexities.


Areas of Similarity

Despite their distinct approaches, JARUS SORA and FAA Order 8040.4 emphasize a thorough understanding of ground and air risks, advocating for tailored safety measures specific to each operation. They concur on the necessity to assess potential hazards to people, property, and other airspace users meticulously.


Conclusion and Call for Action: Embracing Tailored Safety Management Systems

Understanding the nuances and commonalities between JARUS SORA and FAA Order 8040.4 enriches the dialogue on UAS safety management. It showcases the imperative for a harmonized approach incorporating detailed risk assessments and continuous safety assurance. As the UAS sector progresses, encouraging collaboration between international and national regulatory entities is pivotal in unifying safety standards.


The clarification regarding SORA's inclusion of a safety assurance process, especially within EASA's implementation framework, suggests a critical call to action for operators: adopting a tailored Safety Management System (SMS). Such a system should comply with regulatory expectations and ensure the highest safety standards, considering the unique risks associated with specific UAS operations.


Helpful Resources


This detailed understanding of safety assurance within the SORA process underscores the importance of implementing adequate safety measures, tailored to the specific risks and complexities of UAS operations.

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