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.
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
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 is regularly updated (see the Warsaw Declaration of 2016, the Helsinki Declaration of 2018 and the Amsterdam Declaration of 2018) to take stock of the progress made so far and indicate new priorities.
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 a UAS traffic management system (UTM) emerged in many parts of the world. This system would ensure safe operation of a large number of drones at low-altitude (especially in urban areas) as the ATM ensures the safety of aircraft operations at high altitude. The Commission, EASA and SESAR Joint Undertaking are working the development of a UTM concept for Europe, called U-Space. In order to support the development of the U-Space, the Commission has established European Network of U-space Demonstrators.
In March 2020, EASA has adopted an Opinion 1/2020 on a high-level regulatory framework for the U-Space
European safety rules for civil drones
Following the entry into force of the new aviation safety Basic Regulation, setting rules for unmanned aircraft, irrespective of their weight, is a Commission competence. Over the coming years, the Commission will introduce a complete regulatory framework enabling the further development of the European drone sector (See EASA RMT.0230).
The approach taken by the Commission, with the support of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, is to apply the highest safety standards achieved in manned aviation to drones as well. The rules are based on an assessment of the risk of operation, and strike a balance between the obligations of drone manufacturers and operators in terms of safety, respect for privacy, the environment, protection against noise, and security. For example, new drones will have to be individually identifiable, allowing the authorities to trace a particular drone if necessary.
On March 12, 2019 the European Commission adopted common EU-wide rules setting technical requirements for drones. These rules have been revised in 2020. They will set features and capabilities that drones must have in order to be flown safely and, at the same time, help foster investment and innovation in this promising sector. The EU rules build on national rules that were in place and now provide a harmonized framework across the European Union.
Chapter II of Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945 defines, in particular, a harmonization legislation (CE marking) defining the requirements that consumer drones must comply with in order to be used in the ‘open’ category of operations, i.e. without the need to obtain a prior authorisation from an aviation authority.
In addition to the technical requirements for drones adopted today, the Commission has adopted provisions covering the operation of drones. The rules will cover each operation type, from those not requiring prior permission, to those involving certified aircraft and operators, as well as minimum remote pilot training requirements.
Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/639 of 12 May 2020 amending Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 as regards standard scenarios for operations executed in or beyond the visual line of sight
These technical and operational rules will replace any national rules on drones that may currently exist in the different Member States as from 1st January 2021.
Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/746 of 4 June 2020 amending Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 as regards postponing dates of application of certain measures in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For more information, see FAQ on EASA website
Standards will complement this regulatory framework. ASD-STAN D5WG8 is developing standards covering the requirements imposed on the consumer drones intended to be operated in the ‘open’ category of operations. EUROCAE WG-105 develops on its side standards and guidance documents that will allow the safe operation of UAS in all types of airspaces.
In the spotlight
This proposal is based on the following consultation documents:
- consultations on Commission detailed rules on unmanned aircrafts undertaken in 2018
- an EASA Opinion 01/2018 on Unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations in the ‘open’ and ‘specific’ categories published in Februa ry 2018
- a proposal (NPA 2017-05) for a Commission regulation on UAS operations in the open and specific category published in May 2017
- a ‘Prototype’ Regulation on Unmanned Aircraft Operations and its explanatory note published in August 2016
- a technical opinion on the operation of drones published in December 2015
- a concept of operations for drones
- a proposal for common EU rules for operating drones (A‑NPA 2015-10) issued earlier in 2015
Dronerules.eu - raising awareness about drone regulation
DroneRules.eu is a web portal that provides information about the regulation of drone operations 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. Special focus is placed on helping drones’ operator to cope with their obligations in the field of privacy and protection of personal data (GDPR)
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 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.