There is a concerted effort by the 32 state members of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to integrate UAVs into the continental airspace. At the same time, regulators from individual countries and drone manufacturers are working together to make sure the industry benefits from the unified legislation in terms of innovation, leadership and of course, sales.
Drones in Europe are a rapidly developing sector. It is expected that within 20 years the European drone sector will directly employ more than 100,000 people and have an economic impact exceeding €10 billion per year, mainly in services. All of the efforts to advance common rules and regulations will help ensure these jobs are both created and maintained.
At Amsterdam Drone Week last November, EASA held their High Level Conference on Drones. In two days of invitation-only sessions, top aviation and industry stakeholders discussed the future of drone regulations and the drone industry in Europe. During a plenary session on the New European Regulatory Framework, representatives from industry and regulatory agencies discussed the appropriate framework for drone regulations: performance-based, collaborative, and global.
The first package of drone regulation from EASA will, the agency hopes, be published in the first or second quarter of 2019. The second package, which will include items like certification, will be published for comment in 2020 – and the UTM package after that. In Europe, as in the US, some industry stakeholders say that regulations risk limiting innovation and adoption, but that argument is met with the same response since regulators are focused, as they are required to be, on safety.
What’s different is that in Europe, this emphasis on safety comes just ahead of another widely recognized goal: the development of the European drone market. It’s a challenge because while regulators admit that while the development of Commercial Aviation Regulations that took place 20 years ago was based on a deep understanding of manned aviation, when it comes to drones, regulators are in a whole new space.
A Pan-European Endeavor
Critically, EASA’s effort involves stakeholders from every member country.
“We’ve been learning by doing,” says Pekka Henttu, a representative from TRAFI, Finland’s Transport Safety Agency. “My expectation and hope is that we’ll have harmonized regulation – which will bring Europe to the top of the industry,”
“For the first time in history, aviation becomes a truly commercial product,” says Daniel Wiegand, the CEO of Lilium, a heavy lift electronic vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, commenting that performance-based regulation is the best stepping stone towards a regulatory framework.
Steve Nordlund of Boeing agreed with Wiegand. “Aviation is being used in ways – and in industries – that it’s never been used before,” he says. “Complementary regulatory activity around the world is incredibly important. Maintaining the level of safety – or even improving the level of safety – is the commitment that we need to have…. a tight collaboration between industry and regulators globally is incredibly important.”
Christoph Raab, CEO of Drone Alliance Europe, emphasized that cooperation between countries is crucial. “Our approach is a harmonized approach. We need one set of regulations across Europe,” he says, commenting that small businesses especially need the leverage of a larger market. “It’s about creating wealth, and jobs, and business. The more we have globally interoperable rules, the more benefit we will have,” says Raab. “It’s important that international regulators are aware of this.”
Raab also sees the importance of talking to communities about the benefits of drones. “We should not speak about acceptance, but explain the social value… that should be on the forefront on our minds.”
Asked if we’ve made appropriate progress in the industry towards regulation, Nordlund says the enormous growth of the industry so far indicates progress. He emphasized again that collaborative activities between industry and regulators are critical to growth – in activities he described as “test and learn,” focused on solving problems with this new form of aviation. “We’re just starting,” he says.
While acknowledging that all stakeholders may not agree on the EASA Basic Regulation effort, “We’ve opened the door,” says Henttu. “…We’ve started the conversation.”
The conversation among aviation regulators is similar around the world – issues of safety, privacy, cybersecurity, public acceptance, and industry adoption are all complex and difficult topics. But in Europe, those issues are being addressed with a view towards global cooperation and the growth of the drone market. This effort is not only good for European drone companies, and good for Europe as a whole.
At the same time, the European Commission (EC) has promised to help European drone makers. At an EC meeting earlier in the year in Brussels, discussions of transport regulation centered around issues of competition. Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc argued that consolidated, European-wide regulations would allow European countries to manage airspace less expensively and to become world leaders in the aviation industry, particularly for the newly developing drone market.
Ms. Bulc said that anticipated drone regulations will create “a European-based regulatory framework” which will “create the conditions” for European drone manufacturers to become world leaders. The Transport Commissioner promised that proposed laws will “strike a balance between safety, security, legal certainty, privacy and data protection requirements.”
“It will really enable the drone industry in Europe to take off,” she said.
The above mentioned first package of drone regulations, which are part of a larger “aviation package” designed to create common regulations throughout the aviation industry, will help cut the costs of airspace management. This approach underscores EASA’s intention that will allow individual member states to draft their own rules on where and when drones can fly, but that the European Commission will create common standards on design, production, and certification of drones.
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