Jorge Manchado joined SENASA more than 24 years ago and developed his "flying hours" by providing comprehensive theoretical training to thousands of glider pilots and private aircraft pilots, up to the now incipient area of drones. He is currently an expert aeronautical technician, specialised in UAS training and consultancy, he participates in the development of documentation and national and international standards, in pilots and operators training, and collaborates as a UAS expert in debates and congresses in the aeronautical sector.
SENASA has a long background in training aircraft pilots. How has this experience been transferred to the UAS field?
At SENASA we can be very proud of our experience and knowledge in the field of conventional aircraft pilot training, of the excellent work of our experts and instructors with whom, for more than 20 years, we have developed a prestigious pilot training which, today, has been transferred to the new market needs with the rise of UAS.
Of course, this was not an immediate change. SENASA experts have already been working for more than a decade in the complex field of RPAS certification analysis, an area in which we have also been pioneers in Spain. What are commonly referred to as "drones" have undergone a great and constant evolution from a technical and regulatory point of view: the most widespread current trend internationally is to refer to these systems as "UAS" (Unmanned Aircraft Systems), as it is considered to include both remotely piloted drones (the so-called "RPAS" - Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems) and autonomous drones, without the intervention of a remote pilot. In any case, it is essential to understand that a drone, whatever it is, is an aircraft and its operation is also regulated by a complex set of European and national regulations, and therefore the training of operators and pilots is crucial for it to be carried out safely.
SENASA carried out the first RPAS pilot training course in 2012, when there were still no Spanish or international civil regulations or even a theoretical syllabus. We then tackled this challenge from scratch, created the theoretical training syllabus for remote pilots and taught it. It was very gratifying to see the similarity between the content we had created and the official syllabus of theoretical knowledge that was later adopted in Spain. Since 2012 we have already trained 52 promotions of RPAS/UAS pilots, being the first aeronautical training school in Spain to teach drone courses.
Since that first Basic and Advanced RPAS Pilot Course Certificate, we have not stopped completing the training offer at SENASA with the preparation for other certificates. Currently, in addition to obtain the remote pilot training certificates in the 'Open' Category (Subcategories A1-A3 and A2) and in the 'Specific' Category (Standard Scenarios STS-01/STS-ES-01 and STS-02/STS-ES-02), we conduct courses for UAS Instructors and Examiners, and in subjects such as UAS Radiophony, U-Space, UAS Regulations, Micrometeorology applied to UAS operations, and Flight Analysis in non-segregated airspace, among others. Our mission is to respond to the needs of the client, of the market, of the new scenarios that are emerging with drone applications in different business areas and activities, so SENASA's catalogue of courses is constantly adapting to these needs.
What is the current situation of the training needs in the UAS sector?
The first thing to bear in mind is that the application of European UAS regulations is not simple and often requires an in-depth study and analysis of applicability prior to the operation to be carried out.
With the entry into force in 2020 of the European aeronautical regulations on civil UAS, the number of operators and remote pilots in Spain has reached an exponential development. Currently, registered with the Spanish Aviation Safety and Security Agency (AESA), there are more than 71,000 UAS operators and 68,000 UAS pilots. This is largely due to the simplification of the requirements for both pilots and operators, according to European standards, compared to Spanish regulations. The Spanish market already has some 400 entities recognised to provide UAS pilot training, among which SENASA stands out.
Following the European regulation implementation, we as professionals in aeronautical training have seen a change from a scenario in which remote pilots were required to have advanced aeronautical knowledge to a situation in which they are required to have significantly lower training requirements. As an example, European regulations do not require a minimum of mandatory formal training, although they do require the official theoretical exam and a mere declaration of self-practical training in order to obtain the corresponding remote pilot certificate, within the so-called "Open Category" and the "Specific Category/Standard Scenarios".
For its turn, the effort made in Spain by the UAS Division of AESA, with the support of SENASA experts integrated in its team, must be acknowledged, from which it carries out excellent work in disseminating and updating information and training. They have achieved first-rate prestige in the aeronautical field, not only in Europe but also internationally.
The UAS sector is highly competitive and needs UAS operators and pilots with solid and extensive theoretical and practical knowledge. At SENASA we understand that both instruction and aeronautical training at the highest level have been, are and will always be the key to ensure the situational awareness of crews and all personnel involved in air operations, whether with conventional or remotely piloted aircraft. For this reason, at SENASA we are committed to quality training based on the broadest aeronautical and UAS sector knowledge, and on excellence in training, these being the two fundamental pillars of our business performance.
With the implementation of drones in all kinds of activities, what future scenarios can we find and what could be SENASA’s contribution?
The integration of UAS, not only in the airspace but also in our lives, will represent a new Era in Aviation; and not only in the aeronautical sector but also in the social and environmental sector. This new and revolutionary stage will require personnel (remote pilots, operators, designers, producers, developers, etc.) educated, skilled, qualified and trained to the highest level.
All services offered by SENASA in training, consultancy and specialised technical assistance are applicable to the UAS environment. We are talking about areas in which SENASA has a great experience and knowledge, such as Safety and Security, Air Navigation, Meteorology, Airports, Environmental Sustainability and the Aeronautical legal field.
Our business lines also include training in Air Traffic Management (ATM) and Aircraft Maintenance and Operation. We are already including drone operations simulations for future air traffic controllers to train them in situations they may encounter in their day-to-day work. Our consolidated and widely recognised capacity in conventional aircraft maintenance allows us to respond to the processes, mechanisms and requirements that may be established, and we can adapt our experience to the maintenance of unmanned aircraft that are subject to certification. There is still no regulation developed ad hoc for the UAS Certified Category, but it is expected soon.
SENASA has been registered as a UAS Operator since 2021 and, among other aspects, we are specialised in Fire Fighting. We also collaborate by providing training and consultancy in regulatory and technical issues for UAS to different institutions such as the State Security Forces and Corps, RENFE, Hydrographic Confederations, State Ports, etc. Behind each project there is a great human effort, facing new challenges every day to provide solutions that meet the needs of our customers. We collaborate in the MITMA's Safe, Sustainable and Connected Mobility Strategy 2030 and in the commitment to the United Nations 2030 Agenda.
This new Era in Aviation will bring major changes and adaptations within the aeronautical environment. Modern and revolutionary aircraft concepts and related systems will be introduced; complex flight procedures based on performance and digitalisation; an unprecedented structuring and regulation of airspace, with its requirements and aeronautical regulations, in which the use of artificial intelligence will enter. This future will bring us more operational applications.
Both for its lines of business and its areas of specialisation, SENASA is going to be part of these new scenarios. We have the human resources, the knowledge, the experience, the willingness and the motivation. If there are values that characterise our teams, they are professionalism, determination, and commitment.