The European Commission plans to draft regulations for commercial drones this fall in an effort to keep up with the rapidly growing industry and new legislation in member states.
The Commission is expected to take its lead from the European Aviation Safety Agency, which published a proposed regulatory roadmap last month. At the same time, members of the European Parliament have launched a working group in an attempt to forge a quick consensus when the Commission releases its package. And conservative British MEP Jacqueline Foster is working on her own report on drones.
“Drones are the talk of the year and Europe needs to be ambitious and embrace them as an essential part of the future of flying,” said Violeta Bulc, European commissioner for transport, who signed the Riga declaration on civil drones in March. She said the Commission will include drones in its aviation regulatory package.
The key elements are expected to address safety, security, privacy and noise pollution.
MEPs are particularly concerned that the fast pace at which the drone market is moving will make any regulation eventually adopted obsolete.
Sales of drones, including military, are estimated to be worth €4.57 billion globally, and they are expected to more than double in by 2023. Europe is an industry leader with 114 manufacturers and 2,495 operators of small drones, according to the European Aviation Safety Agency.
“There is a huge gap between the developments of drones and the need for clear European rules,” said Matthijs Van Miltenburg, aa Dutch MEP and the shadow rapporteur for the report for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
“We need legislation about safety, privacy and data protection and it has to be future-proof and flexible, as industrial developments move quickly. Europe is already behind the curve on this,” he added.
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But member states may not welcome the EU intrusion, with some wanting privacy and security concerns dealt with nationally instead. At least 11 EU countries have enacted legislation on drones and more are drafting it.
The risks drones could pose made headlines in December when one carrying mistletoe injured a diner in a UK restaurant. But there are additional risks, including to other aircraft.
“Emergency services helicopters operate at very low levels and they aren’t necessarily designed to withstand drone strikes,” said Paul Reuter, pilot and technical director of the European Cockpit Association, which represents 38,000 pilots. “Even a small one-or-two kilogram drone could fatally damage a helicopter and cause it to crash.”
Given that drones are already being used for such things as land surveillance and photography, privacy protections are expected to be a major concern.
“We have to think about data protection, because drones will collect enormous amount of data,” said Mady Delveaux, a Luxembourgish MEP and rapporteur for the working group. “To whom does this data belong?”
This article was updated to clarify the position of Matthijs Van Miltenburg.