Drones and aviation safety

7 Aug 2019

Drones, or unmanned aircraft, are an ever more common presence in Europe’s skies. Commercial and recreational users send drones out for tasks that include aerial filming and photography, safety inspections, and crop oversight. And we already see tests underway for drone delivery of goods or even transport of passengers. As a result of this rapid growth, drone manufacturers and operators are seeking greater access to airspace, including airspace where commercial aircraft are currently operating. This brings many risks for aircraft operators and passengers, as recent incidents around European airports or close to low-level helicopter operations have shown.

Drones certainly have a role to play in the future of aviation, but safety must be the primary concern. With this in mind, the ETF demands the introduction of the following measures:

Common global legislation on drones with high standards and endorsed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Clear categorisation of drones according to their capabilities and a risk assessment. Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) should not be categorised strictly by weight.

Mandatory licensing for all RPA pilots, which should include a background security check for operations above a certain risk level. For low-risk operations, the licence could be replaced by an attestation or registration on a website of platform managed by the ICAO or the European Aviation Safety Agency.

Registration of every drone with a unique EASA/ICAO identification number and a card for the named holder.

Strict separation between airspace for manned aircraft and Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) airspace, open to drones and RPA.

Inbuilt geofencing for RPA so they cannot enter restricted airspace, with regular updates of RPA databases to ensure compliance with any changes.

RPA should only be allowed in airspace below 120m (400ft) as a general rule. If an operation requires entering airspace protected by height limitations and/or geofencing, the drone shall be piloted by a person holding a valid pilot licence and in contact with the relevant air traffic service. Besides, the disabling of the geofencing/height limitation should be subject to prior authorisation of a relevant competent authority.

The ETF is not alone in these demands. We are one of the signatories of a joint industry statement calling for a robust harmonised EU-wide regulatory framework for drones. We are also participating in the initiative We are One in the Sky, alongside a wide range of industry stakeholders. We work on this issue inside the EASA.

Featured image: Drone flying over the lake. Photo by Aaron Burden.