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The LUC is seen by many as the golden ticket to authority independent UAS operations. An accreditation that will give your organisation superpower. But is this really the case? Before we look at the pros and cons of the LUC let’s first look at what the LUC is.

What is a LUC?

LUC stands for Light UAS operator Certificate. It is issued to an organisation by the national aviation authority in the country where the organisation is registered.

If you can demonstrate to the CAA of your country that you are a professional drone operator, is properly structured with clear lines of command and that can carry out risk assessments in a proper manner one can obtain a LUC. With this LUC you can do one or more of the following:

  • Conduct operations covered by standard scenarios without submitting the declaration
  • Self-authorise operations covered by a PDRA without applying for authorisation
  • Self-authorise other operations without applying for an authorisation.

Why one or more of the above? It is important to understand that there is not just one LUC. The LUC allows you to self-authorise your operations but only within the scope of the LUC that is issued to your organisation. EASA calls this the level of maturity of your organisation. Typically, the CAA of your country will at first only authorise you to self-approve operations to SAIL level II. In all there are six risk levels defined in the new EU regulations. SAIL I and SAIL II cover the low-risk operations, SAIL III and SAIL IV the medium risk and SAIL V and SAIL VI the high-risk operations. So, if you have been granted a LUC up to SAIL II you will not be able to self-approve an operation above SAIL level II such as a heavy drone carrying people and overflying a populated area. This case will fall in the CERTIFIED category.

How the risk level itself is determined is a complex process and is determined in the Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) by analysing the risk your operation poses to people on the ground (the ground risk or GRC) and the risk you pose to other airspace users (the air risk or ARC).

Why should one try to obtain a LUC?

If you only operate in one county the advantages of a LUC can be overshadowed by the amount of work, you will have to do to obtain it. For example, in the Netherlands having a LUC will only be of interest if your organisation plans to work in other EU member states. The current Operational Authorisation to operate in the SPECIFIC category will cover the same operations (up to SAIL level II) than what a LUC would allow you to self-approve.

But if your organisation intends to carry out UAS projects in different member states of the EU then having a LUC can make a big difference. In some instances, you will only need to inform the authorities of the other member states that you will conduct an operation, but you do not have to request permission. This can create big savings in terms of time as well as money as applying for a permission can be costly. Moreover, having a LUC will demonstrate to your clients that your organisation can achieve the highest safety and compliance standards in current UAS operations.

What should you do to obtain a LUC?

The exact requirements to obtain a LUC and how to apply are defined in Part C of EU regulation 2019/947 (or page 214 of the Easy Access Rules).

The two main components that you as an organization should have in place is having an operation manual and a Safety Management System (SMS). This will sound familiar to any operator executing projects in the SPECIFIC category and the step to obtaining a LUC looks like a small one. But don’t be fooled, the requirements and specifications to which your manuals and SMS should adhere to are quite extensive.

Your Safety Management System must define very clear and independent lines of responsibility, the Accountable manager must appoint a Safety manager as well as a compliance manager. The latter should be fully independent from operations to avoid conflict of interest (you are not supposed to mark your own exams).

In addition, you must have a safety policy that is clearly distributed to the personnel and that has a myriad of specifications such as stating that the company will adhere to current regulations, promote safety, that staff is properly trained for their functions etc., etc. Each of these statements must then be implemented in your organisation and documented.

You must also have documented procedures for Management of Change for a wide variety of situations, not just in the field but also when there is a change in ownership, critical employees being changed, changes in equipment or change of office location.

Having an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) is another requirement, to which your personnel must be trained using a predefined syllabus, backed up by training records and examinations. On top of this an ERP drill should be executed and documented.

Self-assessing the risks associated with an operation cannot be dome in any manner of your choosing. The method to do this is the Specific Operations Risk Assessment, better known as the SORA. It is not just a question of conducting the SORA, but you must demonstrate that your staff is properly trained in the use of the SORA as well as the current regulations, a training syllabus must be present, and you should be able to show who has completed the training and that you have checked that the material presented during the training was examined.

Another requirement to obtain a LUC is that the holder must establish and maintain a system for exercising operational control over any operation conducted under the terms of its LUC and must produce an audit plan to internally check its own compliance with the LUC.

From this compliance audit, reports are to be produced and corrective measures are to be followed up through documented actions. This means that you must have a set of procedures on how exactly you will self-authorise an operation.

Above are just some of the main points required to apply for a LUC. The regulations list many more and each of which must be fully implemented before the application.

Once you can demonstrate to comply with all the requirements, you can apply for the LUC in your country of registration. That is where the main seat of business of your organisation is located. The nice thing is that the LUC you will receive will be valid in all EU member states.

Is there a LUC in the UK?

The UK adopted the new EU drone regulations on December 31st of 2020. This day was not selected without reason since normally EU legislation is adopted on the 1st of January of a new year. This exceptional date was chosen so that the UK could adopt the regulations one day before the Brexit. However soon afterwards the UK CAA made some major modifications to the regulations, and these are no longer in line with the regulations in other EU member states.

So, is a French LUC valid in the UK and vice versa? The simple answer is no.

The UK is now no longer a member state of the EU and therefor certificates and qualifications from EU member states are no longer automatically accepted. If you as a licensed LUC operator from an EU country and want to work in the UK, then you will first have to register your organisation with the UK CAA. You must then again apply for a LUC. And same goes for a UK operator wanting to work in Europe. And that sounds simpler than reality.

The UK CAA have adopted their own version of the EU regulations and the whole concept of the SORA is not addressed. The word SORA does not even appear in the newly updated Civil Aviation Publication (better known as CAP 722).  This means that the method to assess risks and their mitigation will be different in the UK than in the rest of Europe

additionally the UK CAA is not giving the impression of wanting to grant the LUC status to any operator at present. In a previous statement they said they might consider this after two years. So far none have been issued in the UK.

Is the LUC suitable for your organisation?

At Unmanned Value we offer organisations the opportunity to have a free and no strings attached first meeting with one of our experts. During this first meeting we can explore together if obtaining a LUC is of added value to your organisation.

If you would then like to proceed with obtaining a LUC and you would like help from experts who have gone through the whole process, then Unmanned Value can offer the right consultancy to make this process as smooth as possible.

The author of this article, Pieter Franken, was the consultant to Terra Drone Europe, who obtained the first LUC in the Netherlands.