EASA looks to make regulations EASY
While an ironically disproportionate amount of attention is given to hobbyist drones crashing onto government protected lawns and amateur photographers spying on topless neighbors, plenty of the futuristic manless flying machines are also currently being used for good; in critical infrastructure and civil protection, disaster management, search and rescue, environmental protection and law enforcement.
They’re also used rather benignly in journalism, various commercial activities and for leisure, with predictions they’ll soon be entering and revolutionizing industries from the transport of goods, cargo and people, to agriculture and energy.
A recent European report on the Civil Use of Drones – for the committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs – notes that various member states in the EU have plans to increase their use of drones, spurred on by requests from companies large and small with a burgeoning interest in the manufacturing, selling and use of drones to monitor their activities or provide goods and services to clients.
Israel was recently pegged as the world’s largest exporter of small surveillance planes, according to a major study by Frost & Sullivan. The handful of Israeli companies that manufacture the drones earned at least $4.6 billion in sales during the last eight years, Frost & Sullivan said in its report. That tally includes exports of the planes themselves and operating and communications systems and payloads.
American defense companies probably manufacture more drones, but they send much of them to the US military and its close allies. Also, US restrictions limit the number of drones that American firms can export.
Europe, however, is catching up and hoping to make its presence felt, with the determination to forge a lasting niche in the space. In Europe, the number of companies deploying drones for commercial use has risen significantly over the past three to four years. In France alone, the number of approved drone operators has increased from 86 in 2012 to 431 in 2014. Currently, Europe has over 1,000 operators.
The EU is keen to foster that enthusiasm, it seems, realizing that by backing the technology it could generate both growth and jobs.
The Euro drone industry is not only growing because technology is rapidly advancing, but because the European Aviation Safety industry (EASA) is encouraging and creating new categories, as well as rules and regulations to help the market reach its greatest potential.
Requirements proposed by the EASA for commercial operations are a lot less stringent than the regulations proposed by the FAA; for example the EASA would not require a license for commercial usage.
The agency recently published its Vision 20/20, an overall inclusive proposal for the future of the aviation regulatory system, similar to the FAA integration roadmap.
EU member states have already put drones to work doing safety inspections of infrastructure, like rail tracks, dams, dykes and power grids, while other national authorities are using them in disaster relief, e.g. to overfly flooded areas or to support firefighting. There’s hope, too, that they will soon come to be even more useful in emergency situations, where human intervention is either impossible or difficult, say, at sea or when nuclear accidents or natural disasters occur.
In farming, the EU hopes it can exploit more drone potential through the more effective and timely application of fertilizers or pesticides, while on the futuristic energy front there’s talk of drones bringing giant wind turbines into the air to produce “green” electricity.
On the more industrial side of things, European countries are dedicating engineers to work on micro-drones which could be used to tackle gas or chemical leaks, or which could be programmed to act like bees to pollinate plants.
Indeed, latest facts and figures indicate that Europe is producing some of the most technologically advance drones globally, and drones are estimated to be 10 percent of the European aviation market ($15 billion euros) by 2025 as well as create 150K jobs by 2050.
With prices of drone technology plummeting, use is increasing exponentially, and the EU knows, the sky is the limit.
At FTI, as one of the few global consultancies with deep roots in policy, regulation, and technology, our team, both in Europe and the United Space, routinely analyzes and evaluates conversation and events in the drone space. Indeed, our integrated US/EU tech/regulation team believes there are many unexplored opportunities for drone-related businesses, from managing risks, to implementation of open standards, to building a strong communication infrastructure to deal not only with operational risk but issues like privacy and security.
Our team in Brussels is plugged in to all major policy movement, while our team here in San Francisco and Washington DC keeps its finger firmly on the FAA’s pulse.
For more information about drones, and FTI’s views on the subject, keep an eye on our blog, especially our skytek series.