EU Drones Are Taking Off

The European ParliDronesament has adopted a non-binding report on the safe use of drones in civil aviation. Drafted by MEP Jacqueline Foster (ECR, UK), the report highlights that a clear European legal framework is required in order to ensure the development of the European drone sector.

Today Europe is the leader in civilian drone operations, with 2,500 drone operators across the continent. Establishment of EU-wide rules for the drone sector is perceived as an indication that the economic potential and commercial use of drones can be realised. While non-binding, the report will represent the view of Parliament during the Commission’s review of EU aviation policy, which should be published before the end of the year. The question of how an EU regulatory framework on drones should look will soon be answered.

There is agreement between the European Parliament and Commission regarding the basic principle of the future framework: drone operation rules should be risk based and proportionate. We can expect a system which imposes strict rules on operations deemed to carry a significant risk (eg possible damage to critical infrastructure), and a much lighter approach to operations falling under a low-risk category. Overall the EU institutions agree that a balance needs to be struck between realising the economic potential of drones and guaranteeing citizen safety and data protection.

It is clear that rapid development of drone technology is pushing EU regulatory barriers. Based on the Parliament’s report, airworthiness, certification specifications, pilot training, liability and insurance, protection of privacy and geofencing should be among the main issues the future EU rules shall address.

Currently the EU framework is marked by fragmentation, with some member states regulating or planning to regulate drones. While civil drones with an operating mass of over 150kg are regulated by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), drones with a mass of 150kg or less are regulated at the member-state level. The Parliament and the Commission both agree that the 150kg threshold should be removed and replaced with a coherent and comprehensive EU regulatory framework. The planned unification of rules will improve the possibility of cross-border operations, as there is currently no mutual recognition of operational authorisations between EU member states.

The College of Commissioners is scheduled to discuss the aviation package, including provisions on drones, on 2 December. The upcoming Dutch presidency of the Council of the EU has already confirmed its intention to launch an EU-US discussion on drones and privacy. Given the EU’s leadership in drone operations, the future European regulatory framework is likely to influence the global debate on the matter. FTI Consulting will continue providing strategic insights into the EU drone debate, which is just about to get take off.

Miroslav Pospisil is Senior Consultant at FTI Consulting Brussels

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