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08/12/2016

Aviation safety body sets out risk-based approach to civil drone use

Science & Policymaking

Aviation safety body sets out risk-based approach to civil drone use

civil_drone.jpg

[Shutterstock]

Three categories of civil drone should be created to regulate the unmanned aerial vehicles now used in everything from filming to farming and parcel deliveries, Europe’s aviation safety body has proposed.

The proposals would allow the new industry to grow while at the same time protecting people and goods, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said on Thursday (12 March).

Drones in Europe are currently subject to a patchwork of regulations in each country. The European Commission wants a basic regulatory framework put in place by the end of this year.

In France, where flights over Paris without authorisation from aviation authorities are illegal, drones flying over major sites such as the Eiffel Tower and the United States Embassy caused alarm earlier this month.

In Germany, drones must weigh no more than 25 kg while in Britain, drones of above 20 kg are subject to the same regulations as manned aircraft.

In the US, the FAA bans most commercial drone flights, though companies can currently apply for exemptions while new rules are finalised.

Risk assessment

Under the rules suggested by Cologne-based EASA, the lowest risk category would cover low-energy aircraft, including model planes, and would not require any licence. Such drones must be flown within the line of sight, away from areas such as airports and nature reserves and up to an altitude of 150 metres.

Flights above crowds would not be allowed in order to minimise the risk to people, EASA said.

As soon as operations pose more risks to people or the drone needs to share airspace with other vehicles, a risk assessment must be carried out and then an authorisation awarded.

The highest category would be akin to current regulation for commercial manned aircraft, with multiple certifications required for operation, it said.

“In other words, safety requirements are in relation to the risk an activity,” the EASA explained. “The greater the risk the higher the requirements.”

“These rules will ensure a safe and fertile environment for this much promising industry to grow,” EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky said in a statement.

However the agency said the privacy risks posed by drones would need to be addressed at national level, for example by installing SIM cards.

“They raise concerns if citizens feel that drones intrude in their private lives; if they illegally gather data or if drones become flying nuisances,” EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said at a conference on drones last week.

The Commission is expected to present a draft law for the lowest-risk category by December 2015, so that businesses could operate drones across the EU by next year.

Background

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), commonly known as drones, are increasingly popular among flying enthusiasts.

But the integration of drones into the airspace also poses a major challenge in terms of safety, pilots have warned.

Unidentified drones have made flights over 11 French nuclear power stations last year, raising safety concerns.

Greenpeace expressed worries that drones could be used to drop explosives on nuclear power stations.

>> Read: 'Game of drones' highlights France's nuclear vulnerability

Timeline

  • By Dec. 2015: Commission is expected to present a draft law for the lowest-risk category drones
  • By 2016: Businesses expected to operate low-risk category drones across the EU

Further Reading