Starting in July 2020 EU member state national rules concerning the operation of drones will be replaced by EU wide regulation, opening the market and perhaps setting the global standard for drone safety and management.
The new rules cover both the manufacturing and operation of drones and are designed to provide a uniform level of safety and clarity to everyone involved, to help in boosting the sector.
“The regulator is working at opening the market up,” says Christopher Raab, Executive Director of Drone Alliance Europe, a coalition of leading tech companies representing the drone industry.
Similar to cars, which have strict safety standards before being allowed on the road, manufactures of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will have clear guidelines for what a drone needs before it can fly. The rules also cover the situations in which drones can operate. Risk assessments, operator training, safety measures and flight rules will be outlined for different flight scenarios, flying over a city or crowds versus crops, for example.
All drones are also required to be individually identifiable. This will allows authorities to track individual drones if necessary and prevent situations like the chaos created at airports in the UK. Once a drone operator has received the appropriate licensing and authorisation in the state of registration, they will be free to operate their drone without worry across Europe.
“Up until now drone legislation at European level was virtually non existent,” explains Ruben Roex, an attorney specialising in specific technologies such as drones. “We ended up with a lot of legal frameworks in a lot of countries.” For business’ that specialise in either the building, operation or outfitting of drones this made international operations quite tricky. “We now have one main set of rules which we can rely on, which should in the future make things easier.”
At the moment drones are largely viewed as tools for inspection of infrastructure, mapping and agriculture. For example, the EU project WADI, has coupled optical remote sensing devices with UAVs to detect leaks in water infrastructure in rural areas. “The advantage given by drones is the flexibility of using these platforms in local studies reducing the time and price for obtaining a preliminary leak detection analysis,” explains project partner Juan Barba from Galileo Geosystems. “The new proposed rules will harmonise regulations regarding where, when and how you can operate a drone in Europe and create a common EU market for unmanned aerial vehicles, thus aiding the expansion of our project’s solution across member States.”
A clear legal framework gives companies not only the ability to operate across Europe but also expand the nature of services they can provide. “The new regulations allow flights that occur beyond visual line of sight,” says Ellen Malfliet, Chief Marketing Officer of Unifly a Belgian company providing a platform to track and integrate drone flights into our airspace.
Flying a UAV beyond the sight range of the pilot was tightly restricted, but the new rules allow more freedom in this area, giving drones a wider latitude to complete tasks. “This is a huge step in the range of drone applications, not in the least delivery.” Furthermore, certain countries prohibit drones from carrying or dragging anything making deliveries, or precision application of things like crop pesticides impossible. A unified European framework can “serve as a booster for the emerging drone services sector,” says Malfliet.
By removing uncertainty manufacturers and service providers will be able to design their products and then scale up operation thus opening the market, believes Raab. For him, the use of drones for public services will likely be the first large scale application and will lead to greater popular acceptance of drones flying in their communities. This can then be followed by jobs that are dangerous for people, such as helicopter flights for wind farm inspections. “If you can replace them by drone,” Raab says, “the worst that can happen is the drone gets damaged.”
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