Legislation Amending the Japanese Civil Aeronautics Act to Implement Small UAS’s BVLOS Operations Over People
by Yoshihiro Fujimaki
1. Background and Overview
The bill to amend the Japanese Civil Aeronautics Act, which will allow for a small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) to operate beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) over people, was submitted to the National Diet of Japan on March 9th, 2021.
At present, in cases when someone in Japan would like to operate sUAS beyond visual line of sight, he/she must get individual approval for that operation. In addition, operations flown over people (third parties) are prohibited.
On the other hand, in 2017, Japanese industries and the government collaboratively developed the “Roadmap for the Aerial Industrial Revolution,” which was intended to develop technology and improve the overall environment for safe utilization of sUAS. This roadmap has been revised each year, and in the latest version, the target date of implementing BVLOS operations over people was set for FY 2022 (by March 2023).
Based on this roadmap, the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) has been studying necessary regulatory changes for implementing such operations, and submitted the bill to amend the Japanese Civil Aeronautics Act to the Diet. This bill also aims to make the current regulatory framework more efficient. For these purposes, the bill includes two new regulatory content, a sUAS type certification / airworthiness certification and a sUAS pilot license.
2. sUAS Type Certification / Airworthiness Certification
In the Japanese Aeronautics Act, manned aircraft and sUAS are clearly distinguished, and currently there is no regulation regarding type certification / airworthiness certification for sUAS. The bill will establish such certification.
There will be two classes of the sUAS type certificate / airworthiness certificate: 1st class and 2nd class.
For operations which will be flown over people (third parties), which are currently prohibited by the law, sUAS will be required to have a 1st class sUAS airworthiness certificate (and a 1st class sUAS pilot license).
For operations which will not be flown over people, sUAS will still be able to be flown based on individual approval for each flight, and will not be required to have any class of airworthiness certificate. However, in the case that someone would like to perform a BVLOS operation that does not fly over people, he/she will not need to get individual approval IF the sUAS has either class of the sUAS airworthiness certificate AND the pilot has either class of the sUAS pilot license, which is described in next section.
The relationship between sUAS type certification and sUAS airworthiness certification is the same as that for manned aircraft; a sUAS manufacturer will apply for a sUAS type certification for a type of sUAS, and once it is certified, sUAS airworthiness certification inspections that are typically needed for every sUAS will be partially or totally omitted for that type.
The above figure is reprinted and translated from the interim report published by JCAB on March 8th, 2021 (https://www.mlit.go.jp/policy/shingikai/kouku01_sg_000288.html)
3. sUAS Pilot License
In addition to sUAS type certification / airworthiness certification, currently there is no regulation regarding sUAS pilot licenses, and so the bill will establish two classes: 1st class and 2nd class.
If a pilot plans to operate sUAS over people (third parties), a 1st class sUAS pilot license will be required. If he/she does not plan to operate sUAS over people, the sUAS pilot license will not be mandatory. However, as described in the previous section, in the case that someone would like to perform a BVLOS operation, but not over people, he/she will not need to get individual approval IF the sUAS has either class of the sUAS airworthiness certificate AND the pilot has either class of the sUAS pilot license.
Also, the bill will approve private training organizations for sUAS pilots. Once a pilot has completed a course at an approved training organization, the test for the sUAS pilot license will be partially or totally omitted. In addition, he/she must take a course at an approved training organization every three years for license renewal.
The above figure is reprinted and translated from the interim report published by JCAB on March 8th, 2021 (https://www.mlit.go.jp/policy/shingikai/kouku01_sg_000288).html)
4. Effects From Its Implementation
In FY 2019 (from April 2019 to March 2020), the number of sUAS operation approval applications submitted was 48,364, and the breakdown of approvals is shown in the next figure. (Please note that one application may include several approval items.) Most approvals are related to night operations, BVLOS operations, operations near people or buildings, and operations in densely populated areas. For these operations, individual approval will not be necessary IF the sUAS has a sUAS airworthiness certificate AND the pilot has a sUAS pilot license.
The above table details information from material that JCAB submitted to the council on Nov. 19, 2020 (https://www.mlit.go.jp/policy/shingikai/kouku01_sg_000281.html)
On the other hand, some sUAS operations, such as those conducting around airports, flying above 150m altitude, transporting hazardous material, etc., will remain subject to individual approval. Operations by the sUAS which weigh over 25kg will also remain subject to individual approval.