European Commission Vows 'Tough' Regulation of UAVs

 - April 10, 2014, 3:59 PM
In 2012, the Anteos quadcopter was awarded the first commercial UAV permit in Italy, according to its manufacturer. (Photo: Aermatica)

The European Commission plans to set “tough new standards” to regulate the operation of UAVs, known as remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) in Europe, before they are more widely introduced into unrestricted airspace in 2016. The standards will cover safety, security, privacy, data protection, insurance and liability, the commission said.

“Civil drones are increasingly being used in Europe, in countries such as Sweden, France and the UK, in different sectors, but under a fragmented regulatory framework,” the commission said on April 8. “Basic national safety rules apply, but the rules differ across the European Union and a number of key safeguards are not addressed in a coherent way.”

In a statement accompanying the announcement, Siim Kallas, the commission’s vice president for mobility and transport, said: “[M]any people, including myself, have concerns about the safety, security and privacy issues relating to these devices…If ever there was a right time to do this, and to do this at a European level, it is now.”

In December 2013, the European Council asked the commission to develop a regulatory framework for safely introducing RPAS into European civil airspace beginning in 2016. The commission plans to conduct an “in-depth impact assessment” this year to examine the associated issues and then propose legislation to the European Parliament. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the commission's technical advisor, will develop EU-wide standards based on the principle that RPAS should operate to an equivalent level of safety as manned aircraft. EASA will also develop security requirements “to protect information streams” and propose for RPAS operators, air traffic controllers and others legal obligations that will be enforced by national authorities.

Independent of the commission’s announcement, Spain’s State Aviation Safety Agency (AESA) issued a policy memo on April 7 stating that it “is not permitted and never has been” to operate RPAS commercially in that country to perform aerial work. The agency said it is collaborating with industry to develop a regulation that will establish a new classification for RPAS, the conditions under which they can operate, and requirements for certification, manufacture, maintenance and operation of civil unmanned aircraft.

“We must emphasize that drones are aircraft. As such, they are subject to legislation currently in force in Spain [for] general aviation, as well as the rest of regulatory aeronautics,” the AESA memo reads, according to a translation. “There is the mistaken belief, in that layer of airspace that extends from the ground up to 400 feet, you can fly with these devices without restrictions.”