The European Union (EU) is on the verge of revising its regulations for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or “drones”) operations in Europe. The revisions will shift the regulation of UAS away from EU Member States to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), as well as incorporate a risk and performance-based approach for UAS regulation.

The European Commission (EC) predicts that the drone industry could account for 10% of the EU aviation market by 2024 and could create 150,000 jobs in the EU by 2050. If adopted, the proposed common rules will provide clarity and uniformity to the growing market and body of drone operators and manufacturers, as well as boost the development of commercial UAS operations in the EU.

Currently, operations of UAS that weigh 330 lbs. (150 kilograms) or less are regulated by individual EU Member States. A year ago, the EC proposed to revise EU Regulation 216/2008 to incorporate new UAS rules. Last month, the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee amended and approved these new UAS rules for all EU member states, and on December 1st, the Council of the EU agreed on the “general approach” of the new rules. However, because 18 EU Member States have already adopted their own rules to regulate drones, some of which are more permissive than others, the proposed shift of regulatory authority away from individual countries may result in considerable disagreement over the rules developed under EASA’s new regulatory scheme.

Once in effect, all EU operations of UAS will fall under the common EU civil aviation framework. The EC, with EASA’s technical help, will define UAS design and operations requirements, including the requirements for production, maintenance, and operators. EASA will be responsible for developing guidelines for, and the certifying of, UAS manufacturers and operators. To preview its expected requirements, EASA issued a “Prototype” Commission Regulation on Unmanned Aircraft Operations to inform the UAS community on the direction EASA may take for its UAS safety rules. Some of these rules include:

  • Definitions and requirements for certain categories of UAS;
  • Detailed responsibilities for UAS operators to operate safely;
  • UAS manufacturer obligations;
  • Designation and responsibilities of agencies that will implement the new rules; and
  • Obligations and powers of EU Member States.

EASA plans on issuing a notice of proposed amendment by the end of 2016.