The term drone defines two categories of aircraft: unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS). The first group classifies the aircraft that flies automatically programmed, without having the assistance of a pilot, not even remotely. They are still unauthorised, both under ICAO and EU rules. The RPAS on the other hand, represent the drones controlled by a pilot from a distant location. The aircraft is not automated, having a pilot in charge at all times, representing the only type of drones that are authorised at the moment.
Drones have been subject to discussion for approximately a century, but from a rarity they became today’s reality. The most primitive form of a drone is described through the attack of the Austrians against Venice in 1849 when 200 unmanned balloons were sent with bombs in the Italian city. Although the concept does not meet the present definition of a drone, the idea was taken over and used in military actions after World War I and continued to be refined ever since, giving birth to a new eon of warfare.
Leaving aside military action, it is spectacular to see how innovative this concept began to be used in the last decades. Dull or dangerous activities have been taken over by RPAS that started to be used for civil purposes such as delivering mail; oil, gas and mineral exploration and production; commercial and motion picture filmmaking; disaster relief, scientific research or effective and timely application of fertilizers and insecticides at farms.
For the future, drone technology is expected to break records and by 2050 it is anticipated that a number of different aircraft categories will be operating in our service, as civil drones not only for monitoring infrastructure or fertilizing farms, but for the transportation of goods and people. The diversity displayed in size, performance and type that offers an immense potential for job creation and economic growth, transforms the market of drones into a key component for the aeronautics industry. From grams to more than ten tons, with speed levels of 1,000 km/h or with endurance records of months, RPAS have a wide range of options that leave space for an imagination without borders.
At the moment, the US and Israel dominate the global RPAS manufacturing. 1708 different RPAS are referenced around the world being produced or developed by 471 manufacturers around the world with 176 of them coming from Europe. The US industry research shows that following the first three years of RPAS integration in the national airspace, more than 70,000 new jobs are foreseen with an economic boost of around $13.6billion. In Japan, between 1993 and 2005 the number of RPAS operators was increased to about 14,000. In Europe150,000 new jobs are envisaged by 2050, excluding the operator services jobs. Before turning these figures in contracts, we need regulation!
The European Union is fully engaged in preparing all the necessary arrangements in order to allow the RPAS to take the skies, targeting as usual a safe, harmonised, cost effective and environmentally friendly setting.
On the 19th of December, 2013 the European Summit called for action to facilitate the integration of RPAS in the civil airspace starting with 2016. As soon as RPAS will reach the full potential and receive certification that they can actually integrate in the air traffic amongst traditional aircraft in non-segregated airspace, we will surely see them flying around.
RPAS operations are already authorised in civil purposes in non-segregated airspace by certain Member States but a number of key safeguards are not addressed in a coherent way due to the differences existing between the Member States. National rules have been developed in order to facilitate the use of RPAS (Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Sweden and the UK) but without mutual recognition.
Without European standards, to be developed by EASA in tight collaboration with the European Commission, Eurocontrol, the European Defence Agency and the European Space Agency, a real market of drones cannot come into sight.The current rules are coordinated by ICAO. There is even an article in the Chicago Convention about drones, giving ICAO jurisdiction, and its view is that it will allow drone operations only in the case of specific authorizations given by national authorities.
In April 2014 the European Commission decided it is time to set concise and rigorous standards for regulating the operations of civil drones. Safety, security, data protection, insurance and liability are the core features to be taken into account. For the reason that this emerging technology has a striking potential to be used in various domains, creating new jobs and seriously contributing to the economical growth of Europe, the aim is to create as soon as possible the right environment to sustain this technology and to become a global leader on the market. The intention expressed by the Commission was to create the EU regulation in early 2015.
SESAR Joint Undertaken (SJU) is in charge with the research and development (R&D) of the future ATM in the context of Single European Sky. It is therefore in charge with the progressive integration of RPAS technologies, which need further development and validation. The defined actions for RPAS will be integrated in the next European ATM Master Plan, allowing a clear evaluation of the progress. SJU will weigh up among other factors, the spectrum allocation and management issues, security protection against psychical, electronic and cyber-attacks, the human factors issues and the decision capabilities to ensure a standardized and predictable behavior in all phases of flight.
Unlawful actions are not to be left out of interest in the case of RPAS.RPAS are often used in military action; therefore these drones could be tempting terrorists, criminal or rogue states to use them as weapons. RPAS could potentially be blocked or ground control stations could be hijacked. Hence, the security vulnerabilities play a crucial role in the regulation process.
Fundamental human rights have to be carefully protected so that the right to a private and family life, as well as the protection of personal data has to be watched over when mapping, recording or surveillance purposes are in the balance.Although Europe aims for the highest safety standards, accidents are not excluded. In this case, a clear set of rules must be set up so that in case they occur, victims will be rightfully compensated for injuries or damage. The liable part has to be easily identified and third-party insurance regime shall meet appropriate requirements, as in the case of traditional aircraft.
The clear set of regulations that will be created by EASA are expected to be compatible with the ICAO standards. RPAS must provide a safe, secure, harmonised and cost-effective setting as the traditional aircraft market does.
As the former Vice-President of the European Commission, Sim Kallas mentioned, it is normal to have concerns about all aspects entailed in this process of innovation, but “if ever there was a right time to do this […] it is now”. Once the regulations will be put in place, aviation might climb the ladder of innovation like never before. We all agree the regulations are in need, thus we are thrilled to see them in place. Strict rules, severe controls and a clear framework will allow the RPAS to take over the skies. And as soon as this will happen, estimates show that in the next 10 years, the market of RPAS will actually represent up to 10% of the aviation market, which is the equivalent for €15 billion.