Drones Without Borders: Future Common Standards in the EU?

by Inline Policy on 15 Oct 2014

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), more commonly referred to as ‘civil drones’ or ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ (UAVs), can perform tasks that manned systems are sometimes unable to perform. They can be useful for surveillance purposes, border control, agriculture, firefighting, or media and entertainment, amongst other applications. The EU and some of its Member States have in recent years acknowledged the benefits of this new technology. The latter have, in certain cases, introduced new regulations that enable the industry to flourish, whilst minimising potential issues that may arise within their territory.

The European Commission is now is seeking to remove barriers to the introduction of RPAS in the European single market. However, it remains to be seen whether this will still be a priority when the new European Commissioners take office.

European Institutions at the Forefront of New Regulations

RPAS could fly across European borders after 2016. An initiative of the European RPAS Steering Group (ERSG), instigated by the European Commission in 2012, seeks to achieve the safe and incremental adoption of RPAS into European air traffic by 2016. This was further agreed upon at the European Summit on 19 December 2013, which called for ‘action to enable the progressive integration of RPAS into civil airspace from 2016 onwards.’

These developments could potentially open new opportunities for an industry which has not grown as much as RPAS within the military and defence sectors, and has to deal with different regulatory frameworks across European Member States.

With all of this in mind, the European Commission, which has been working on the regulation of civil drones since 2009, released a Communication entitled ‘A new era for aviation – Opening the aviation market to the civil use of RPAS in a safe and sustainable manner’ in April 2014. The goal? To design a balanced European policy framework, which will enable the development of the commercial drone industry whilst safeguarding public interest.

The European institutions have been quick to support the growing industry, which according to the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe, could generate about 150,000 jobs by 2050.

Siim Kallas, Vice-President and Commissioner for  Mobility and Transport, said: "If ever there was a right time to do this, and to do this at a European level, it is now. Because remotely piloted aircraft, almost by definition, are going to cross borders and the industry is still in its infancy. We have an opportunity now to make a single set of rules that everyone can work with, just like we do for larger aircraft."

Common Standards for a Growing Industry

The European Commission, in its efforts to create a new regulatory framework, has acknowledged the need to address issues of safety and operation of the wider civil aviation system that may arise when RPAS fly in a non-segregated airspace. Similarly, a public debate about the issues of safety, privacy and data protection, third-party liability, and insurance, will have to take place.

The standards will aim to include the following:

  • Strict EU wide rules on safety authorisations, which will be developed by EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency).
  • Tough controls on privacy and data protection.
  • Controls to ensure security, as civil drones can be subject to potential unlawful actions and security threats. These will also be developed by EASA.
  • A clear framework for liability and insurance that incorporates the specificities of RPAS.
  • Streamlining R&D and supporting new industry for SMEs and start-ups.

The European Commission is relying on EASA to develop common rules on the above standards that are consistent with ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation). JARUS (Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems), which brings together Member States and international organisations, should help to form a consensus on such standards. Furthermore, EASA will also work with EUROCAE (European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment) in the development of these rules.

Following its intentions described above, DG Mobility and Transport opened a Public Consultation (14/08/2014 – 24/10/2014) entitled ‘A policy initiative on opening the market for remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS or civil drones).’ Following an in-depth impact assessment, the (new) Commission may issue a legislative proposal.

The UK is Examining Regulatory Developments on the Civil Use of Drones

The UK Government and the Houses of Parliament are following the developments at the EU level very closely. In particular, the Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment Sub-Committee of the House of Lords EU Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the Commission’s intention to regulate the civil use of RPAS will be holding meetings in October and November this year.

Committee Chairman Baroness O'Cathain has said: "The rise of civilian use of drones across the EU is staggering. In the UK alone the number of permissions granted for civilian use of drones in congested areas went up forty-fold between 2006 and 2013. No wonder that the RPAS industry has been described as one of the most dynamic aerospace markets of the 21st Century.”

On Monday 13 October, the Committee held a public meeting and heard from: Paul Cremin, Head of UK Aviation Safety, SAFA & Permits Branch, Department for Transport; Adam Simmons, Deputy Director, International Aviation Safety and Environment, Department for Transport; and Andrew Horton, Senior Technical Policy Advisor, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The Committee sought to find out whether the Commission has identified the key issues in this debate, and how the EU’s actions can benefit the RPAS industry in Europe in a way that is acceptable to all stakeholders.

In line with the European Commission, the Committee discussed potential issues of safety and security, privacy and data protection, liability and insurance, and research and development.

The speakers considered it a positive development that the Commission is discussing how to regulate the operations of RPAS in the EU, but emphasised that it must not overregulate. Similarly, they said that regulators must send a clear message to industry that they seek common standards across EU Member States, which will encourage companies to invest and continue innovating. However, they acknowledged that it is not an easy task, because the market is growing unevenly across the EU (partly due to a lack of regulatory oversight).

They also claimed that the UK is seeking to influence how the rules are being developed to ensure that it is not disadvantaged. Furthermore, the Department for Transport has also been trying to encourage industry to take a more proactive role, because companies currently tend to be risk averse and hold back investment due to regulatory uncertainty.

As such, they mentioned that there needs to be a balance of growth and safety, data protection, and ethics. They also commented on the work of the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which is targeting key manufacturers and sending leaflets that detail how pilots should behave and what the implications are with regards to data protection legislation. Those speaking at the hearing expect concerns about the use of civil drones to rise, and said that there needs to be an open dialogue with the general public across the country.

It remains to be seen how new regulations at the EU level could affect current legislation in the UK, where the CAA allows drones which weigh less than 20kg to be flown normally, as long as the operator maintains constant visual contact and any data or images from the flight are not used. Drones must also remain at least 150 metres away from individuals. Traditional flight regulations apply to all aircraft over 20kg.

The EU as a Global Leader?

The Commission estimates that by 2050 a number of different aircraft categories will be operating, which will be diverse in size, performance and type, with some still having a pilot on board, but many remotely piloted or fully automated. If the EU wants to become a global leader in this industry, it will need to find a balance between enabling and securing growth and tackling all of the issues which may arise as a consequence. With the market flourishing in the US and Israel, the EU (and its Member States) will need to step up and regulate sensibly, whilst keeping the public in mind.

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Topics: European Union, Civil Aviation Authority, UK politics, UAVs, Technology, UK business

Inline Policy

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