Drones - What the latest developments in the EU mean for your business

Aviation Legal Update

UAS Alert

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Because of the broadening scope and business chances for operation of drones within a society longing for faster and more efficient mobility at lower cost, the European Union (EU) intends to swiftly advance the regulations of this sector. In order to prepare for such legislation, a High Level Conference "Drones as a Leverage for Jobs and New Business Opportunities" took place 23-24 November 2016 in Warsaw/Poland.

Results of the Warsaw Drones Conference (23-24 November 2016)

The conference in a nutshell set the following goals:

  • The EU Commission will present a concept on how drone operations should be organized in a U-Space within the next 6 months.
  • An efficient framework for all individuals and businesses to operate drones at lower levels, up to 150 meters high shall be enacted.
  • Denser traffic of automated drone operations over longer distances including cities shall be possible.
  • The rules shall provide a safe environment and make privacy and security rules effective.
  • The European Commission already proposed to give the EU competence to regulate on all drones regardless of their weight (currently the EU only has the competence to regulate drones with a weight of more than 150 kg while member states regulate the lighter versions).
  • Education and safety promotion campaigns shall be developed to increase the awareness of all actors, in particular those without an aviation background.

Background: the "Prototype" Commission Regulation

Even before the Warsaw Conference, the European Commission, Member States and other stakeholders requested the European Air and Space Agency (EASA) in Cologne to draft a “Prototype” Regulation. By the end of 2018 at the very latest, the EU institutions expect to adopt a final Regulation on Unmanned Aircraft Operation. Given the economic potential of the drone market and the potential issues regarding safety, privacy, and data protection, the EU intends to enact a clear legislation to face the future challenges that drones pose.

The EASA “prototype” regulation is intended to support preparing the formal EU rulemaking process. It does not yet constitute any formal commitment though. Under the proposed regulation, drones will be grouped into three categories, which are risk-based. Safety risks are determined by the possibility of mid-air collisions with manned aircraft, harm to people and damage to property.

Proposed drones categories

The EASA "prototype" regulation proposed the following drone categories:

  1. open category” (low risk).
    • No prior authorisation by a competent authority before the operation takes place.
    • No pre-approval for the design of the UA, the operator, or of the pilot.
    • Compliance with operational limitations (e.g. limit to flight altitude of 150 meters), mass limitations (maximum weight of 25 kg), product safety requirements, and a minimum set of operation rules.
    • Registration of the UA, equipment with an electronic identification means, and/or with a geofencing function for certain sub-categories.
  2. “specific category” (medium risk)
    • Authorisation by a national aviation authority before the operation takes place. This authorisation is based on an operational risk assessment.
  3. “certified category” (higher risk)
    • Requirements comparable to those for manned aviation.
    • The certification of the UA, a licensed remote pilot and an operator approved by the competent authority, in order to ensure an appropriate level of safety.

What to do now?

  • Assess business chances and risks under the intended rules.
  • Take influence on EU decision-making processes.
  • Adapt products to the challenges of the upcoming regulation.

In case you have any additional questions, require further input or seek for advice or support on EU Legislation, please contact the authors.