Wingtra spearheads a European drone regulations milestone

WingtraOne flying over a work site with the FOCA logo

Wingtra recently achieved a major regulatory success. This news not only showcases the reliability of the WingtraOne Gen II system, but also offers a smoother permissions process around countless drone-based projects in Europe. To fully understand what it marks on the drone regulations landscape—and how it impacts customers—we talked with our regulatory affairs specialist, Antonio Pascual del Rio. Through this interview, he simplifies and clarifies the latest development in the context of ever-evolving airspace rules.

Q: Can you tell me in a quick synopsis what Wingtra has achieved here?

A: The WingtraOne GEN II was the first drone to be awarded SORA SAIL III approval from the Federal Office of Civil Aviation [FOCA] in Switzerland* with Wingtra as an operator.** This means that WingtraOne GEN II is suitable for operations under conditions covered within the SAIL III subcategory, which allows flight above populated areas up to 140 m above ground and within visual line of sight [VLOS]. 

In short, when using the GEN II, operators can now apply knowing that their UAV platform meets the standards required for SORA SAIL III permissions.

 
*SORA SAIL III approval depends on the combined permission of the UAV platform and the operator. In this case, the operator is Wingtra. Other operators applying to fly other projects in the future will nevertheless know that the GEN II passed previously.

**The term operator includes pilots and their organizations, which train and maintain licenses, continued education, etc.

Q: Let’s map out the technicalities so everyone can appreciate the achievement—what is SORA?

A: Specific operations risk assessment, or SORA, is a structured way to evaluate and assess risks related to unmanned aircraft operations. It’s a multi-step process that national aviation authorities across the EU employ to grant approval. SORA approval is based on operator qualifications and the tested and audited soundness of the UAV platform.

Q: What does it mean that customers can fly the GEN II in the specific category under SAIL III?

A: Specific assurance and integrity level [SAIL] is a way for FOCA to evaluate the “concept of operations” of a UAV platform. In other words, where the operator wants to fly, what area to map, under which conditions and so on. The SAIL number defines a level assurance that a UAV is designed, produced and performs according to clearly-outlined Operational Safety Objectives [OSOs].

So now, if customers apply for a SAIL III approval within Switzerland, they will have the confidence that the Gen II platform complies with the OSOs linked to SAIL level III. This means that customers can trust that the platform is approved, and they just need to meet operator qualifications.


Q: How will GEN II customers benefit from all of this?

A: First of all, to be clear, this permission applies to the drone platform and the operator.

At the moment, the SAIL III authorization applies so far to Wingtra as an operator of GEN II. It grants permission to fly above populated areas up to 140 m above ground within VLOS.

So the benefit is that other WingtraOne GEN II operators can get this authorization too.

Q: What did Wingtra need to do, and what tests did WingtraOne GEN II pass, to gain this approval?

A: To get approved by FOCA, Wingtra submitted a detailed set of technical and operational documents that outlined our protocols and approach to safe and compliant drone operations in Switzerland, specifically over populated areas.

FOCA also audited Wingtra to validate our adherence to required safety procedures, including normal and emergency procedures in Switzerland and its claimed safety and reliability figures.

More specifically, authorities checked the failsafe procedures we had in place to confirm the safety of WingtraOne GEN II across the range of operating conditions it could be used in. Hardware and software design as well as the manufacturing process, including production controls were also closely evaluated during this audit. We were also audited regarding product developments, testing standards, quality assurance and regulatory compliance.

In the end, the collaboration with FOCA was smooth, and the process was orderly. It’s good to know they are in charge of our skies.

Q: Practically, what does this change for current and potential customers? 

Customers who wanted to use WingtraOne Gen II outside the open category will now have official proof that their platform conforms to the SAIL III design requirements. In other words, WingtraOne GEN II’s SAIL III approval by FOCA enables European drone operators to seek approvals from their national aviation authorities according to the SORA process.

 
Q: Is it a lot of work for WingraOne customers to get the project approval even if the drone is approved?

A: It’s much easier if the drone has already been approved. In fact, Wingtra has made it easier for FOCA and other aviation authorities in Europe when they know that the UAV platform has already passed rigorous tests and is approved under specific conditions.

It’s also easier for operators now to structure their projects according to the conditions WingtraOne GEN II has been approved to fly in so that they can benefit from all of the functionality this leading-edge platform provides. 

Q: What does this mean for the rest of Europe? 

While every member state adjusts their rules according to their judgment, the approval of a system in a category in one member state opens the door to its consideration and approval in others. Switzerland has a reputation for high quality and rigorous attention to rules, regulations and safety standards. So the precedent that has been set is a strong one.


Q: In your experience, what does this approval say about the WingtraOne GEN II system overall?

A: It offers an unbiased and qualified third-person assessment of a system that we have long known was developed and produced to the highest quality standards. Customers again and again tell us how safe, reliable, easy to use and efficient WingtraOne GEN II is. Yet to have the Swiss national aviation authority approve it to fly qualified projects within line of sight over people is a massive moment of validation.

As a fundamental service ensuring maximum safety and uptime among all of its customers, Wingtra is quite invested in staying ahead of regulations worldwide. Our second generation WingtraOne GEN II drone contains many subtle and obvious features that make it future-proof in this way.

Q: Any plans to boost awareness of this achievement and provide insight to customers on a case-by-case basis?

As the first approved operator, we are familiar with the process and are here to help any customer apply and succeed in getting their approval to fly WingtraOne GEN II in projects falling within the new specific category limits.

So we encourage customers to reach out to us in specific cases. This way, Wingtra can support you to confidently apply and secure permits for your projects. 

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Wingtra develops, produces and commercializes high precision VTOL drones that collect survey-grade aerial data.

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