SORACourse.com is an on-line training course that helps drone operators accelerate their Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) applications to obtain faster authorisation for EU Specific Category operations. A parallel course has been developed for regulatory authorities to help review and authorise SORA applications. Dannick Riteco is Co-Founder and CEO.
What problems are you solving?
Most people don’t realise what the SORA process entails. To fly drones in the specific category you need to complete a SORA application process and most people underestimate the effort it takes to fill in such an operational request. At first sight the SORA looks fairly simple. But it still requires subject knowledge expertise and that takes a long time to accumulate. One delivery company in Switzerland, for example, spent approximately 1,000 hours on an operational request and the regulator spent another 100 hours evaluating it.
So, you do not want to get into a long-drawn-out process with the government because your document quality is bad. Many regulators will disregard your entire document if it does not reach a certain standard; they have a pre-application review and if it doesn’t reach the required level they simply reject it.
The benefit of this course is that it avoids this iterative cycle with the authorities because from the start you will be able to submit a set of high-quality documents. Of course, they will always have feedback because it’s a subjective methodology and depends on the person doing the review.
But with this course you can keep the reviewing process to the minimum – if only because governments don’t have endless resources and prefer to spend what resources they do have on more ambitious projects such as urban air mobility and medical delivery, rather than assessing a mission for a DJI drone to fly over a wedding.
The real value of the course is to know from the start how to draft the document, a skill you can learn quite easily. Then there is the added benefit of being able to access a community of peers if you have technical questions.
Have you been able to quantify the benefits in more detail?
A technology-savvy farmer, for example, could save at least 100 hours of paperwork and probably more, spread over a year. Initially our offer was that you could get SORA applications authorised in two months rather than 15 but we have reduced that considerably. I estimate that, on average, we will save you 80 to 90 per cent of time, depending on your experience. And if you are starting to write a concept of operations for your drone company without knowing how to apply the SORA you can go into the completely wrong direction and lose an enormous amount of time and potentially a competitive edge.
The fastest growing and increasingly value type of mission is beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) with small drones over cities. We are now starting to see increasing numbers of mapping operations over urban areas with heavier equipment.
Where did the idea for the course come from?
I was working for many drone operators as a SORA consultant. But I have always thought that regulation should not be a competitive advantage – it’s just a set of rules you have to comply with. It is not right that one company who is able to afford a consultant is allowed to fly while another, who cannot afford a consultant’s fees, cannot.
I realised there’s a need for knowledge; that if people knew what I knew they wouldn’t hire a consultant. It makes no sense. A SORA is specific to one kind of operation. If you are a drone operator you may have a number of different operations that require a SORA; if you had to pay a consultant for every new operation application it becomes very inefficient very quickly. So, it makes much more sense to internalise the process. After all, it’s unthinkable in the manned aviation world and there would be no one in charge of safety regulatory compliance. So that’s why we decided to create the on-line course because it is the easiest way to develop a knowledge base for everyone.
How close to real-life is the course?
The course content is very applied. Anyone can download the SORA document and read it but what we do is show the customer not just what the terms mean but take real life examples and apply them. There are other courses but these tend to apply very rigid aviation procedures to the document; you may get a certificate at the end but you still won’t know what to do. We are more street smart.
The content of the course is regularly updated and we engage with industry experts, creating a community where people can exchange views. The more experience you have the higher the quality.
And you now have a course for regulators, too
We have one on-line course for operators and another for regulators. SORA Consulting has been mandated by the Swiss authorities to undertake SORA application reviews; we write operating manuals and review them. And we have taught Swiss government instructors how to handle these reviews. We also have air navigation service provider and military customers.
The challenge is that there are considerable differences between regulators on how they process SORA requests; there can be differences of interpretation even within a single national authority. If an operator with a SORA moves from one country to another the probability is that the regulators will have very different training courses, so even if the SORA paperwork is perfect for one regulator it might not be recognised as such next door. This is a problem which the European Aviation Safety Authority recognises. There’s also now a legal obligation for SORAs to be approved on an international basis for cross border operations but for many regulators this is a real challenge. No authority will sign-off on a mission that is not properly understood. With their signature they are liable, personally.
And then there’s the question of resources. Many authorities don’t apply resources until there’s a law in place. And although the EASA rule became law this January they have not yet put in place the resources to support it. In theory you can fly drones in the specific category throughout Europe but the reality is slightly different.
Our aim, as with drone operators, is to build a community of experts within the regulatory authorities and we believe they will need more customised content – producing documents in local languages, for example.
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