Operating models for UAS operators

At the beginning of this year, the implementing regulation 2019/947 came into force, and UAS operators, whose operations are primarily in this specific operating category, are now faced with the question of an economically optimal operating model.

Many commercial UAS flight operations are characterized by short lead times between order placement and execution, which can be problematic for applying for a required operating permit or exemption. For this reason, low dependence on external factors and high mission flexibility are essential criteria for many UAS operators in their own operating model. With the acquisition of a Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC) including the corresponding privileges, the legislator offers UAS operators exactly this independence. However, this means additional operational complexity due to the establishment of internal structures, procedures and resources. Finding an operationally optimal solution is therefore a decisive economic factor for UAS operators.

This blog post provides an overview of potential operating models for UAS companies that mainly conduct flight operations in the specific operating category. Proven models from manned aviation were taken up and adapted for UAS operation. In the next blog posts, each individual operating model will be discussed in more detail.

1) Operation without a Light UAS Operator Certificate

The most common form of operation at present is independent UAS operation on the basis of individual flight operation authorisations. In this case, the UAS operator provides all services independently, from the preparation of a risk analysis to the description of the operating concept. For the operating permit or exemption, however, this is dependent on the processing time (currently more than 10 working days in Germany) by the compentent aviation authority. Although in most cases a granted flight operation permit is considered to have no period of validity, it requires renewed approval in the event of changes, e.g. to the flight area.

The business complexity is low in this scenario, but the operational flexibility is severely limited. For the above reasons, this model is very unlikely to be a long-term option for UAS operators with frequently changing flight profiles.  

2) Operation with a Light UAS Operator Certificate

As mentioned before, an own Light UAS Operator Certificate is a desirable goal for UAS operators. After approval by the competent national authority, applicants receive privileges in the form of their own rights with regard to the preparation and approval of operational concepts for flight missions. This gives them much greater independence from, for example, the state aviation authorities for operations in the specific operating category requiring approval. However, this is accompanied by a significant amount of work in applying for and, above all, maintaining the operator certificate. All procedures within the organization must be extensively described and approved. This also includes maintaining a certain degree of independence in the performance of aviation-related tasks. This means, for example, that the same person cannot prepare an operating concept and approve it at the same time. This may result in additional personnel requirements.

It can be expected that the competent aviation authority will conduct regular on-site audits to verify compliance with the described standards and procedures.

Example of the management staff of a LUC organization

3) Operation with Light UAS operator certificate incl. outsourcing of flight operational tasks.

A widespread operating model beyond the boundaries of aviation is the outsourcing of corporate tasks. In this case, the company usually concentrates on its own core tasks, e.g. marketing and execution of UAS missions, and has selected (ancillary) activities performed by a service provider. The duration and subject of the service to be provided is defined contractually. In addition, the way of colaboration is described in a procedure manual. For the operator, the great advantage lies in the cost flexibility and the reduction of entrepreneurial complexity resulting from the outsourcing of operational tasks, e.g., review of operational concepts or compliance monitoring.

Example for the cooperation with a service provider

4) UCMI Charter

A currently largely undiscovered form of operation for UAS operators is the so-called UCMI charter. The term UCMI was adapted by Dronesolut. from manned aviation and stands for UAS, Crew, Maintenance and I nsurance and works as follows. UAS, Crew, Maintenance und Insurance und funktioniert wie folgt.

At first, the UAS is leased out by the UAS operator to an owner or UAS company with a Light UAS operator certificate via an ownership contract. Afterwards, the UAS including remote crew, maintenance and insurance is leased back to the original operator for their own use on a mission or flight hour basis. In this scenario, the operator acts as the "marketer" while the owner is responsible for the regulatory aviation tasks and verifications behind the UAS operation. The original manned aviation model has gained strong traction, particularly with airlines, as it can largely reduce the business complexity for the operator while providing a high degree of mission flexibility.

Schematic representation of the extended UCMI charter