Europe’s aviation regulators are “almost there” in agreeing the transition of regulating drone operations from a national level to a European level, according to Ron van de Leijgraaf of the Dutch Ministry of Transport, speaking at the Commercial UAV Expo in Amsterdam.
“As a first step we are making sure Europe is competent to deal with small drones – at the moment I am responsible for small drones in the Netherlands, not Brussels,” said Ron van de Leijgraaf. “But that process is in the final stage and it will be confirmed later this year – EASA (the European Aviation Safety Agency) will be made the competent safety agency and with this the European Union will officially become responsible for civil drone regulations of every weight category.”
Following swiftly from this agreement the Commission will publish a regulation covering the lower weight categories – which covers most civil drones operating today.
According to Alain Siebert of the SESAR Joint Undertaking, chairing the “regulatory updates and U-Space development panel” at the event, this will mean that within the next 12 months the foundation for drone operations rulemaking will be in place at a European level and rules will have been developed covering the licensing of drone operations along with the introduction of harmonised regulations on registration and identification. At the same time, SESAR demonstrations will have delivered the first sets of operational data on beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and urban operations for the regulator to consider.
“For me, the real goal in U-Space is to allow new missions that can’t be done today – a recent survey has shown that 80% of the value of the drone industry will come from operators being allowed to fly BVLOS missions,” according to Neil Kidd of Altitude Angel. “The problem has been the costs involved in getting operator permission to fly BVLOS, which is crippling the industry.” It has meant only the very large players have the time and resources to fly these more complex operations and once they have had their safety cases approved they do not share them, creating a monopoly of service providers, according to Neil Kidd.
A single U-Space platform available to register drones and obtain permissions to fly will transform the industry, panel members agreed. It will lead not just to more competition but pave the way for the faster pan-European deployment of rules covering more complex drone operations, such as autonomous and urban drone operations, said Ron van de Leijgraaf.