The European Parliament has called on the executive to table legislation ensuring the safe use of drones in civil aviation, hoping to boost an industry expected to reach €80 billion by 2025.
The European Commission is preparing a legislative proposal by the end of 2015, which will develop rules for the safe integration of civil drones into European airspace.
In a resolution adopted on Thursday (29 October), the Parliament urged the commission to take a risk-based approach, without creating unnecessary red-tape for the industry, said Jacqueline Foster, a British Conservative MEP who steered the resolution through Parliament.
National rules on the safe use of non-military drones exist in a number of countries but there is currently no EU-wide regulation. This hampers the development of an EU-wide market for drones which is forecast to reach 80 billion by 2025, MEPs said.
“Whether it’s a farmer checking his crops, an entertainment company filming a rock concert, or power companies checking the safety of electricity cables, drones offer huge potential,” Foster said.
Renaud Muselier a French MEP who is following the file for the European People’s Party (EPP), said the EU should put in place a regulatory framework allowing European drones to “conquer the world”.
“With a market estimated at 80 billion euros and creator of 100,000 jobs by 2025, the EU should maintain its lead,” said Muselier. “Maximum freedom for entrepreneurs and absolute protection of citizens,” should form the basis of the EU’s approach, he said.
Lawmakers insisted on ensuring safety in order for the market to take up. Safeguards would include registering drones and equipping them with ID chips in order to ensure they can be identified in the event of an accident.
Rules should differ according to levels of risk and distinguish between “professional” and “recreational” use, the text ads.
“The drone pilot must be held responsible for his operation at all times, so drones need to be traceable,” said Matthijs van Miltenburg, a Dutch MEP for the liberal ALDE group in Parliament.
Drones that can fly beyond visual line of sight must also be equipped with “detect and avoid” technology, MEPs said. Furthermore, “geo-fencing” technology should be developed and used to prevent drones from entering no-fly zones such as airports and power plants, MEPs add.
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 2015 and has tasked the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for drafting guidelines.
Under draft rules suggested by the 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. The highest category would be akin to current regulation for commercial manned aircraft, with multiple certifications required for operation, it said.
In the European Parliament, a draft report by British MEP Jacqueline Foster (Conservative Party) acknowledges Europe as “the leader in the civilian sector” for drones, compared to the United States' dominance in the military sector. She recommended "a flexible and light-touch approach to regulation, taking into account the international dimension".
- September 2015: Foster report voted on in the Parliament's Transport and Tourism Committee
- October 2015: Plenary vote on Foster report
- December 2015: Commission expected to present a draft law for the lowest-risk category drones
- 2016: Businesses expected to operate low-risk category drones across the EU
- Press release: Drones: guidelines for rules on commercial and recreational use and safety (29 Oct. 2015)
- Resolution: Safe use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) in the field of civil aviation | FR | DE (29 Oct. 2015)