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Unmanned aircrafts

Unmanned aircrafts

Unmanned aircrafts, commonly called drones, offer huge potential for developing innovative civil applications in a wide variety of sectors that benefit European society, and will contribute to creating new businesses and jobs.

Click on the image to see the Euronews episode on drones. More languages are available.

Within 20 years, the European drone sector is expected to:

  • directly employ more than 100,000 people
  • have an economic impact exceeding €10 billion per year, mainly in services

The single European sky ATM research joint undertaking (SESAR JU) is a public-private partnership pooling together the entire European ATM community. SESAR JU published these figures in their European drones outlook study


As civil aviation evolves towards more automation, drone technology will also be crucial for the competitiveness of the European aeronautics industry as a whole.

The European Commission wants to contribute to the development of a drone ecosystem supporting the emergence of this promising sector. All the while addressing related societal concerns such as safety, security, privacy and environmental protection. To this end, it has adopted a strategy presented in a Communication. This strategy has been endorsed in 2015 by the aviation community in the Riga Declaration. It will be regularly updated.

The Warsaw Declaration, adopted in November 2016 by the main stakeholders, takes stock of the progress made so far. It calls for a number of well-coordinated actions to develop the EU drone ecosystem and to deliver it by 2019. It highlights the need to develop European safety regulations and the concept of the ‘U-Space’.

An expert group on drones was established in April 2017. It acts as a sounding board and assists the Commission in the conception and implementation of the EU drone Strategy.


In recent years, the need for traffic management focused on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) emerged in many parts of the world. This UAS traffic management system (UTM) would ensure safe operation of a large number of drones at low-altitude (especially in urban areas). As traditional air traffic management (ATM) ensures the safety of aircraft operations at high altitude, so does UTM at a lower altitude. The Commission mandated the SESAR JU to lead the development of a UTM concept for Europe, called U-Space. A blueprint was released in June 2017 with a preliminary vision for the U-space. It consists of a set of services enabling complex drone operations in all types of operational environments.

European safety rules for civil drones

In the spotlight

On 8 December 2015, the European Commission adopted the proposal for the revision of EASA Basic Regulation 216/2008. It covers the necessary elements to enable the development of European safety rules for drones. This includes a transfer of competences to enable the EU to regulate drones of all sizes, including drones below 150 kg, which today are regulated at national level. To prepare for this transfer of competence, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) adopted a plan (RMT.0230) to develop all the regulations necessary to support the full integration of drones into the European airspace. In May 2017, EASA published the first proposal for consultation (NPA 2017-05) for a Commission regulation on UAS operations in the open and specific category. This proposal is based on previous consultation documents, mainly: - raising awareness about drone regulation

Drone rules is a web portal that provides information about the regulation of drone operation in Europe, including safety, privacy and data protection, liability and insurance requirements.

Rules alone are not enough to ensure safe drone operations that also respect the right to privacy and data protection. The rules must be made familiar to the drone community and be accessible and understandable to everyone using drones. This is all the more important as many drone operators are often unfamiliar with aviation and the safety implications of drone use. The Commission is funding to provide easy access to the most important information relevant to drone users in Europe.

European Commission Strategy

Based on a public consultation, the European Commission has developed a strategy to support the progressive development of the unmanned aircraft market in Europe, while also addressing concerns about safety, security, privacy, liability and/or public acceptance.

This strategy has been endorsed by the aviation community in the Riga Declaration and was made public after the conference organised on 5 - 6 March 2015 by the Ministry of Transport of Latvia and the Civil Aviation Agency of Latvia, in cooperation with the European Commission, during the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The European Commission strategy is presented in a Communication, adopted in April 2014, entitled 'A new era for aviation: Opening the aviation market to the civil use of RPAS in a safe and sustainable manner'.

The strategy focuses on Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), a sub-set of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), which excludes fully autonomous systems. It aims to ensure:

  • the safe and secure integration of RPAS into the European aviation system, from 2016 onwards, through the development of:
    • a common safety regulatory framework, proportionate to risks for drones of all classes. This is to enable the creation of a single European market for civil drones applications
    • the necessary enabling technologies ('sense and avoid', 'comment and control communication link' etc.) within the 'SESAR' joint undertaking, in close coordination with other initiatives
  • measures to ensure the protection of citizens (privacy, insurance, etc.)
  • measures to support market development and European industries.

On 26 November 2014 the European Data Protection Supervisor published his opinion (360 kB) on the above RPAS communication.

On 16 June 2015 the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party adopted its Opinion on Privacy and Data Protection Issues Relating to the Utilisation of Drones.

On 20 May 2014, the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) issued an Opinion on Ethics of Security and Surveillance Technologies (n°28) which addresses the use of drones for surveillance missions.

The strategy was established after extensive public consultation between 2009 and 2012, as well as the creation of a Roadmap for the Integration of civil RPAS into the European Aviation System, prepared by a group of representative European stakeholders.

Other measures taken by the Commission


  • European drones outlook study - Unlocking the value for Europe

    The SESAR Joint Undertaking conducted this study in order to assess the development of drones' operations drones within European skies.

  • Demonstrating RPAS integration in the European aviation system

    This report provides a summary of the results of the drone demonstration projects launched by SESAR JU in 2013.

  • Study on techniques addressing security and privacy aspects of civil operations of drones in Europe

    The purpose of this report, prepared by the JRC, is to provide an overview and an evaluation of techniques able to support 3 main functions needed in the design and deployment of drones in Europe. The 3 functions are: transparency of drones’ operations, 4-D geofencing and minimisation of the collected data. The report provides recommendations on the most feasible technologies or gaps to be filled to support regulatory and standardisation activities for drone operations in Europe.

  • Civil drones in society

    To support the development of responsible and socially beneficial strategies for civil drones, the JRC has undertaken several initiatives. The study on the Societal and ethics aspects of RPAS explores policy developments, consultations, and research projects in Europe and beyond. It also offers a critique of aspects of the development strategy, grounded in the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation.

  • Ethics dialogues

    In a second initiative, the JRC investigated the benefits of engaging dialogues with citizens on the ethical dimensions of different new technologies including drones.

  • ‘You wouldn’t have your granny using them’: Drawing boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable applications of civil drones

    In this article, Philip Boucher reported the results of public engagement activities conducted by the JRC to explore citizens’ visions of civil drones. Several insights counteracted the prevalent assumptions. There is no blanket support for or opposition to civil drones. He found that citizens make nuanced decisions about the acceptability of civil drones depending upon the purpose of the flight and the actors involved. The results support calls to strengthen the role of citizens in civil drone development. In particular, to shift away from the current focus on citizens’ acceptance of civil drone development towards the development of civil drones that are acceptable to citizens.

  • Third-Party liability and insurance requirements of RPAS

    Despite efforts undertaken to ensure the safety of RPAS operations, accidents may happen and victims need to be compensated for any injury or damage caused by the operation of an RPAS. This study investigates the efficiency of the existing regulatory framework and makes recommendations for improvements.

  • Data protection and ethical risks in civil RPAS operations

    This study analyses the privacy, data protection and ethical risks posed by civil RPAS applications and makes recommendations to mitigate them.

  • Study analysing the current activities in the field of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)

    • Part 1 (506 kB) – Status (2007)
    • Part 2 (3 MB) – Way Forward (2007)

Public database

To facilitate the gathering and consolidation of existing information and to increase the transparency of on-going activities, the Commission has set-up a public database on UAS accessible through the CIRCABC interest group on UAS. Stakeholders are invited to contribute to the database.

  • Public information can be sent to
  • Note: to access documents please click on "Library" on the left-hand menu. No login or registration is required.

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