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Commission pushes for cohesive and rapid approach to RPAS sector

By SOPHIE DONOGHUE

BRUSSELS – A general consensus of public and private stakeholders has emerged that Europe must develop remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) for civil security missions by [BREAK] quickly laying down harmonised regulations for their operation in controlled airspace while supporting the sector’s economic development.

The sector’s future industrial competitiveness in the global market and its economic potential are two of the main driving factors. A third one is Europe’s concern to keep up with or leap ahead of a rival US plan for the safe “air insertion” of drones into controlled (i.e. commercial) airspace. The US aims to accomplish this by 2015, the EU by 2016. Both plans entail the knitting together of a complex array of technical, regulatory and safety standards.

Europe’s priorities and challenges for the sector are summarised in a new European Commission working document, “Towards a European strategy for the development of civil applications of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems”. Though not an official final document, the 25-page paper began circulating in early September.

Five thematic workshops were held from July 2011 to February 2012 to gather in-put from stakeholders for the strategy. These focused on:

  • * industry and market issues
    * the role of Eurocontrol (the pan-European air navigation management agency here)
    * allocation of radiospectrum
    * societal and ethical implications of deploying RPAS platforms
    * future research priorities for the sector
  • For example, in the research domain much remains to be done. Validation of the technologies at system level for the safe insertion of RPAS into airspace has yet to be achieved. The Commission recommends that a research-development-demonstration approach for reaching the air insertion goal should be pursued.

    Despite Europe’s proliferation RPAS industrial players, their sector is highly fragmented and pales next to that of the US and Israel, with European RPAS production representing only around 10 percent of the world total. The consensus across all the workshops was that Europe is now at a decisive moment regarding its ability to exploit the potential of RPAS services. If the US air insertion plan is not matched by Europe, the former will capture most of the future RPAS market, observes the document.

    Safe air insertion in Europe can only take place once specific RPAS regulations, procedures and standards have been defined, particularly in the areas of airworthiness, crew licensing and air operations. Common or harmonised rules do not exist for RPAS operators, for example. (For a deeper analysis see our other article)

    The Commission’s paper calls for a coordinated approach – and RPAS roadmap – which would function as a comprehensive reference document updated annually with milestones, distribution of tasks among stakeholders and a clear timetable for integrating civil RPAS in Europe’s airspace. A European RPAS Steering Group, composed of stakeholders, would develop and monitor the roadmap’s implementation in order to reach the 2016 goal of air insertion.

    One interesting area which the paper underlines is the insurance requirements for RPAS operators. There is a growing insurance market for large RPAS – those above 150 kg. However, an insurance scheme for light RPAS should also be developed, it argues.

    Indeed, many small and lightweight unmanned aerial platforms are commercially available for the consumer, yet authorisation for their operation varies from zero to mandatory (if minimal) training across the EU27. With so many amateur “pilots” expected to enter the fray, accidents will be inevitable. The paper also urges caution as RPAS applications are developed to avoid any breach of rights and principles enshrined in the EU’s Charter for Fundamental Rights and the protection of personal data and privacy.

         THE UPSHOT: One interesting area which the paper underlines is the insurance requirements for RPAS operators. There is a growing insurance market for large RPAS – those above 150 kg. However, an insurance scheme for light RPAS should also be developed, it argues.
    Indeed, many small and lightweight unmanned aerial platforms are commercially available for the consumer, yet authorisation for their operation varies from zero to mandatory (if minimal) training across the EU27. With so many amateur “pilots” expected to enter the fray, accidents will be inevitable. The paper also urges caution as RPAS applications are developed to avoid any breach of rights and principles enshrined in the EU’s Charter for Fundamental Rights and the protection of personal data and privacy.

    About Sophie Donoghue

    Sophie Donoghue was deputy editor and policy analyst at SECURITY EUROPE during 2012-2013 and now freelances for the publication from London. She can be reached at: sd@seceur.info

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