Specialised Operations (aerial work)

The air operations regulation includes pan-European requirements for ‘specialised operations’ where aircraft are used for specialised activities such as agriculture, construction, photography, surveying, observation and patrol, aerial advertisement. This covers the activities previously known in most countries as ‘aerial work’.

For non-commercial operators of ‘other than complex’ aircraft, the requirements are straightforward and not very different to the previous national rules. For ‘complex aircraft’ and for commercial operations it’s a different story.

Complex or non-complex?

In this context a ‘complex motor-powered aircraft’ is one that:

For aeroplanes:

  • Has a maximum take-off mass of more than 5700kg or
  • Has a certified maximum passenger seating configuration of more than 19 or
  • Is certificated for a minimum crew of two pilots or
  • Has one or more turbojet engine or
  • Has two or more turbo-prop engines.

For helicopters:

  • Has a maximum take-off mass of more than 3175kg or
  • Has a certified maximum passenger seating configuration of more than 19 or
  • is certificated for a minimum crew of two pilots.

Commercial or non-commercial

The Basic Regulation defines commercial operations as “any operation of an aircraft, in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration, which is available to the public or, when not made available to the public, which is performed under a contract between the operator and a customer, where the latter [customer] has no control over the operator“.

A simplified version of this is to ask if payment is being made for the flight. If it is, then its a commercial operation. If there is no payment for the specific flight then the operation might be non-commercial even if other payments are made, e.g. an an annual management charge.

If a corporation has a ‘Flight Department’ as an entity within the corporate structure then there might be a payment from one part of the corporation to the ‘Flight Department’. In this case the operator (‘Flight Department’) is under the control of the customer (corporation) so this would not count as a commercial operation.

Requirements for complex aircraft operators and all commercial operators

Operators of complex aircraft and commercial specialised operators need to comply with Annex III to the regulation, known as ‘Part-ORO’ and Annex VIII, ‘Part-SPO’. Part-ORO defines management system requirements and Part-SPO describes the operating rules. If the operator needs any ‘specific approvals’, e.g. navigation approvals to operate in specific airspace or on particular routes, then this is covered in Annex V, ‘Part-SPA’. The rules apply regardless of whether the operation is ‘commercial’ or ‘non-commercial’.

The regulations for ‘specialised operations’ require operators to have:

  •  A ‘management system’ including safety management and compliance monitoring;
  • ‘Nominated persons’ to be responsible for flight operations, crew training, ground operations and continuing airworthiness;
  • An operations manual and minimum equipment list;
  • Flight crew training and checking programmes including ground, flight and CRM training for all pilots and additional command, route and area training for pilot-in-command;
  • Training for “task specialists”.

High Risk Commercial Specialised Operations

‘High Risk Commercial Specialised Operations’ (HRCSO) are operations “carried out over an area where the safety of third parties on the ground is likely to be endangered in the event of an emergency or […] due to it’s specific nature and the local environment in which it is conducted, poses a high risk, in particular to third parties on the ground“.

It’s up to the Competent Authority of the State where the operation is conducted to decide if a particular operation is considered ‘high risk’. Operations involving low-flying are likely to be considered ‘high risk’. Some other examples are:

  • Powerline or pipeline inspection flights;
  • Pollution control (spraying);
  • Agricultural flights (‘crop-dusting’);
  • Helicopter slung-load operations (‘HESLO’);
  • Reindeer herding.

Before conducting such flights a specialised operator must obtain ‘authorisation’ from the Competent Authority and must have a specific standard operating procedure (SOP) in the operations manual. The SOP has to be developed based on an assessment of the risks presented by the proposed operaiton.

If an operator having a ‘principal place of business’ in one State intends to conduct high risk commercial specialised operations in another State then authorisation will be required from the Competent Auhtorities of both States.