One sky to rule them all
Europe’s member states are pulling together to make the case for a common European policy environment for drones.
The European Commission already boasts a Single European Sky (SES) initiative by which the design, management and regulation of airspace is coordinated throughout the EU – and it appears drones, too, can expect to be included.
The initiative was created to make safer and more efficient use of airspace and air traffic management systems within and beyond the EU, moving away from the previously inefficient system which allowed every nation state to control its own air boundaries.
Instead, ‘functional airspace blocks’ make the most out of, well, thin air, to accommodate for increasing air traffic.
According to a recent research paper, entitled “Privacy and Data Protection Implications of the Civil Use of Drones” – for the committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs – the European remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) steering group (ERSG) – yes, that’s a lot of acronyms- received a mandate to establish a Roadmap for the safe integration of civil drones into European aviation.
Why? Well, aside from the efficiency of having drones adhere to one set of regulations as opposed to dozens, it’s also believed only European harmonized rules would create a true European market and manufacturing industry, as well as a services’ sector, which could compete internationally and capitalize on drone potential.
It’s hoped drones could see initial integration into Europe’s aviation systems by 2016, with roadmaps already laid out to chart issues needing to be addressed.
For starters, drones will have to show “an equivalent level of safety in comparison to manned aviation”.
Indeed, some hardliners seem to advocate that RPAS should be treated as manned aircraft, though with some consideration to their specific character, thereby making them subject to broader aviation rules. This would, of course, only apply to drones above a certain weight and wingspan, but would mean they’d have to be approved by a competent authority, be operated by someone with a valid RPAS operator certificate and piloted by someone with a license. This, so they don’t reduce the safety of civil aviation.
While that sounds rather severe (especially for hobbyists) it’s important to note that the European approach has evolved from a rather strict one – insisting on the need to apply civil aviation rules and principles to drones – to a more flexible, “risk based and proportionate” one which takes into account the specific risk posed by the size, weight and other specs of the drone.
For the most part, European committees dealing with drone regulation are rapidly realizing that drones are NOT aircraft to which standard aviation rules and guarantees apply, but are viewed as a specific and different object of regulation, necessitating a different approach.
That said, it’s widely agreed that Europe-wide rules for safety should be developed rather urgently by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), including some sort of effort to introduce remote pilot and operator qualifications.
This is similar to the introduction of the car before the driving license, but perhaps even more critical, as with a drone, it’s not always immediately clear who owns or is flying it, making the issue of liability rather tricky. Indeed, in cars, insurance is mandatory, though that is not (yet) the case for drones.
The European Parliament (EP) is said to be keen to steer public discussion and open up the debate on drone policy and regulation to include the public, and not just the current motley crew of industry, the Commission, working groups and other aviation-related agencies and authorities.
This, it’s thought, will help lead to a clearer and more complete regulatory framework, addressing the whole “drones’ chain” and guaranteeing safety, security, privacy, data protection, environmental protection, responsibility and liability, law enforcement action, insurance, identification and transparency.
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.