Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc stated today the intention of making drones part of the European citizens' daily lives by 2019. New common standards will be put in place to create a U-Space: an efficient framework for all individuals and businesses to operate drones at lower levels, up to 150m high. The U-Space will make denser traffic of automated drones operations over longer distances possible, including over cities, and so open the door to a drone service market with huge economic potential. It would be a reliable system guaranteeing easy and fair access for everyone. At the same time it would provide a safe environment, and make privacy and security rules effective. As a first step, the Commission will present a concept on how drone operations should be organised in a U-Space within the next 6 months and start demonstration projects as soon as possible.
Commissioner Bulc said: "Drone technologies are a unique opportunity for the European economy to generate additional growth and prosperity: they open the door to new markets for innovative services with immense potential. I want the EU to remain on top of this, to steer and lead the global development of this technology."
The occasion for this announcement was a conference in Warsaw about the future of drones, in the presence of all the industry with a stake in this new technology. Following a declaration of intent, the picture of a fully functioning U-Space does not look far ahead in the future. The infrastructure, software, and data to build a U-Space are already available. The challenge is to integrate the existing building blocks into a genuine efficient system and, at the same time, tackle safety, security and environmental concerns.
The way forward to speed up the development of the U-Space follows three main threads:
- Innovative demonstration projects will be key to success. Demonstrations on the basis of a U-Space workplan should assess the feasibility of the technologies to speed up their entry into service. Work should start now to pool existing initiatives and work towards delivery by 2019. Around €40 mil have been set aside to invest on this.
- Setting up new standards will be necessary. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has been tasked to work on specific legislation that will allow the set up of a U-Space. These rules and common standards will have to take into account safety, security, environmental and privacy concerns.
- Intense cooperation with the industry will be crucial. Without an industry that believes in this vision and invests in drone technologies, there would be no point in developing the infrastructure.
Background information and what has been done so far
The potential of the drone services market has been calculated between €200 million to several billion depending on scenarios, only for the manufacturing and service markets. This is a unique opportunity for Europe's economy. But to be exploited in a safe and efficient way it needs a legislative framework. The Commission has promised to deliver the necessary rules and common standards for the functioning of drones operations in the EU at all levels:
- Firstly, drone should be integrated in the tradition aviation system, where all commercial flights for people and goods fly (from 150m to 10,000m high). Drones need to behave exactly as "manned" flights and obey to the same rules.
- Secondly, for drones that will fly above 10,000m high, a different set of airspace rules may also be needed.
- Finally, many drones will fly well below the levels used by manned air traffic – below 150m. This is the U-Space, where the most dynamic part of the drone service markets can develop in the short term. That is why both individuals and business should have easy and fair access to the U-Space.
The European Commission has worked on drone legislation, and proposed to give the EU competence to regulate on all drones regardless of their weight (Currently the competence to regulate drones at EU level is for drones above 150kg and at Member States level for drones below 150kg). These proposed standards are now entering the final stage of the legislative process and will form the basis for the development of more detailed rules on drones. The political decisions on this first set of standards lie on the table of the European Parliament and the European Council to be taken in the first half of 2017. Soon after the formal adoption, the Commission will work on more technical legislation.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has indeed already started to work on the technical and detailed rules and common standards on drones, and intense consultation is ongoing. This work will also take into account safety, and will make existing rules on security, privacy and environmental protection effective at the same time. For example the requirement to identify drone operators is a safety requirement, but the need to know who is flying what and where also satisfies privacy, security and environmental protection (nuisances from noise) needs.
- Publication date
- 24 November 2016
- Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport