“Slower growth and tighter drone safety rules in Europe than the USA” – EASA

The Wall Street Journal (https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-european-air-safety-agencies-follow-different-paths-on-drone-regulation-1529701210) reports that Europe’s commercial-drone industry is likely to face slower growth and tighter initial safety restrictions than U.S. operators, according to Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Aviation Safety Agency.

According to the newspaper:

“Mr. Ky indicated that for package-delivery drones to be allowed to fly over densely populated areas, early versions may need to be equipped with parachutes. Or at the beginning, they may be restricted to taking off and landing on or near a river bank. Eventually, he said, such unmanned aerial operations by companies such as Amazon.com Inc. probably would have to undergo a formal safety evaluation culminating in full-blown EASA safety certification of the vehicle itself.

“EASA’s leader talked about principles rather than specific requirements, and his staff won’t even have authority to regulate most commercial drones until early 2019. The agency’s direction also could change if it shifts toward another approach, resembling the one Mr. Ky has laid out for conventional airplanes and helicopters, emphasizing industry cooperation, voluntary standards and avoidance of rigid, technically prescriptive rules.

“Still, Mr. Ky’s general description appears to differ markedly with the seemingly more flexible and user-friendly environment envisioned by leaders of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. The divergence is most evident when it comes to early package-delivery applications, which some FAA and U.S. industry officials have predicted could begin on a limited scale as early as the end of the year. Top FAA officials have emphasized their willingness to use waivers of existing rules, combined with lessons learned from federally sanctioned test sites and novel fast-track regulatory procedures, to clear the way for widespread drone access to U.S. airspace. At the same time, senior Transportation Department and White House officials increasingly are prodding the FAA to move more quickly and find ways around traditional, time-consuming rule-making.”

Mr. Ky was reported as saying that Australia and some countries that already are aggressively courting drone operators, don’t appear to have a reliable way to assess the entire range of hazards. In many instances, he suggested, governments are merely relying on what a manufacturer is telling them about drone reliability. But “who will validate what it is telling you?”

“From my own personal perspective, and I think that’s the way we are going to do it in Europe,” he said, “your vehicle will need to be certified” to fly over cities. Notwithstanding the time and expense that entails, “someone will have to say and guarantee that this thing will not fall” and hurt people on the ground, he said.

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