While the market for drones is rapidly developing and growing, common European rules only cover those weighing above 150 kilograms. Below this threshold, Member States are responsible to regulate.
Several Member States have already adopted drone rules. While national rules allow expertise to grow, these rules are diverging and cause a fragmentation of the EU internal market. Such fragmentation hampers the development of new products and the swift introduction of technologies. Diverging national rules may also create safety hazards.
For the EU to remain a global leader in this area, and to ensure that the rights and interests of citizens are upheld, action at EU level is necessary.
Many drones will fly well below the levels used by traditional aviation traffic – below 150m. This is also where the most dynamic part of the drone service markets can develop in the short term, allowing for a denser traffic of operated drones, including in cities. A particular attention will therefore have to be paid to this level of the airspace (between 0 and 150 meters), which is being referred to as the “U-Space”.
There, a system akin to an automated traffic management will have to be developed. It is an indispensable building block to keep very low level drone traffic safe – and to offer the structure to introduce real priority measures like registration and identification – hence tackling privacy and security issues.
The European Parliament and the 28 EU Member States (the Council) are expected to adopt the Commission’s proposal in the first half of 2017. Technical rules and standards will then be laid out on the basis of the ongoing work of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
EASA published a consultation document on 22 August 2016. A formal proposal is foreseen for mid-2017, as soon as the European Parliament and the Council complete the legislative procedure.
As regards the U-Space, the so-called Warsaw Declaration signed on 24 November 2016 invited the European authorities to outline, within six months, this concept. This outline should address issues relating to business models and governance and include the concept of operations.
The Commission will also create an expert task force to monitor, advise and assist:
- The establishment of the regulatory framework, including the timely delivery of industry standards;
- The efficacy and funding of drone integration projects; and
- The development of the U-Space.
The end goal is to deliver a fully functional drone service market in 2019.