European regulators are increasingly concerned about the safety risks associated with integrating unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into civil airspace, and they are especially worried about the risks posed by smaller unmanned aircraft operating alongside airliners. This was the key message from the UAS 2014 conference held in London last week.
“It’s similar to the mobile phone or the Internet coming in [to aircraft cabins],” said Matthew Baldwin, who is director of aviation and international transport affairs with the European Commission (EC). “The question for me is how you promote these activities but with a regulatory framework that addresses the safety and privacy concerns.”
“At present,” Baldwin said, “we have a patchwork of national regulations, with eight [EU] member states having taken the first steps to allow commercial [UAS] activities. It is a global business and we risk missing out if we don’t promote it in Europe, but it is a very fragmented framework at the moment. A global market needs global rules, so we will take part in ICAO activities and Jarus, which the U.S. and Israel are involved in as well.” Jarus, based in the Netherlands, stands for Joint Authorities on Rulemaking for Unmanned Systems.
Giving an example of the fragmented, inconsistent regulatory framework, Baldwin said that the current European cut-off point where a vehicle is deemed to be a UAS (not a light UAS) is 150 kg (330 pounds), and the boundary below which they are deemed “small UAS” is 20 kg (44 pounds) in the UK but only 2 kg (4.4 pounds) in France, and various numbers in between in other member states. In Baldwin’s view, these weight thresholds are “absurd and arbitrary.”
In the safety arena Baldwin said, “We believe that EASA [the European Aviation Safety Agency] is best placed to develop rules, and we envisage an EC proposal early next year to cover safety, liability and insurance, security privacy and so on.” He added that “Sesar JU [the Single European Sky’s joint undertaking organization] has the experience of how to integrate RPAS [remotely piloted aerial systems] in to the ATM Master Plan…they will develop a working program and work packages to develop and validate new policies.”
The EC issued a policy document this year (available on its website) that laid down the foundation for the envisioned EC Regulation that is expected to be in place by early next year.