With its rugged coastline framed with indented harbors and bays, as well as sandy beaches and rocky coves, Malta is among the best places to be a drone photographer. But the tiny country in the central Mediterranean is set to become a promising outpost for commercial drone operations.
Transport Malta, which is the authority for transport in Malta, issued its first ever EASA Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC) — and it’s also the six such certificate to be issued in Europe. Such a certificate allows the holder to self-authorize flight operations of certain drone flights — including many types of beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations — and is considered the highest authorization achievable under European drone regulations.
The certificate was issued to SwissDrones, which is a manufacturer of long-range unmanned helicopter systems, and was issued in accordance with European Regulation (EU) 947/2019. With it, SwissDrones will be able to self-authorize flight operations of its SDO50 V2 unmanned helicopters across European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) countries.
EASA is an airspace agency responsible for aircraft type certification, design approvals and preparing regulations, which are then adopted by the European Commission. If adopted, those regulations go into effect amongst 27 European Union States, as well as a handful of other associated States.
It is credited with making Europe the first region in the world to have a comprehensive set of drone operation rules. Among those: establishing three categories of drone operations in the European Union. Those are ‘open’, ‘specific’ and ‘certified,’ where open category flights are low-risk (requiring no authorization before flight), while flights in the certified category are high-risk. High-risk flights, like BVLOS flights require three things: certification of the drone operator, certification of the aircraft, and licensing of the remote pilot(s), which is why this comes into play.
Flying drones in what’s called the ‘specific’ category is mandatory for flights outside the limit of the open category, such as larger drones or those flying above 400 feet, and requires authorization issued by the Member States.
What is SwissDrones?
Zurich-based SwissDrones, which is known for its unique twin-rotor unmanned helicopter systems, builds primarily targets surveillance, inspection and search & rescue missions beyond visual line of sight. Its goal is to place manned helicopters, which could save costs, lower carbon emissions and reduce crew risk of operating in challenging conditions. The drones can operate in both day and night with a flight endurance of multiple hours.
SwissDrones said it plans to use its new powers to conduct BVLOS test flights in Malta, which is an archipelago between Sicily and the North African coast that covers just 122 square miles. That’s roughly the same size as the single cities of Dublin, Ireland or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Despite its small size, SwissDrones says Malta is an ideal geographical environment given its ample airspace for long-range testing in real-life conditions, including in coastal areas and over the ocean.
The company added that Malta is a growing hub for unmanned aviation with a dedicated support infrastructure and a clear governmental commitment to advance such a high-growth industry.