In the past, remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) or drones have been primarily used for military purposes. However, the decreasing costs of their purchase and operation enabled a more wide-spread use. Today, RPAS are being used among other things for aerial filming and photographing, safety inspections of pipelines or buildings or by farmers. Tests are being performed for delivery of goods or even transport of passengers. Given the shape and size of RPAS, they might not be visible to other traffic, especially when speed is taken into account. RPAS – even the light ones below 1kg – can cause immense damage to helicopters; the impact of damage to fixed-wing commercial aircraft is not even evaluated yet. The potential safety and security risks are immense, and the safety and security aspects of integrating RPAS into airspace need to be carefully addressed by the regulators.
As part of the Aviation Strategy for Europe published in December 2015, the European Commission announced that it would propose a legal framework for safe integration of RPAS into the shared airspace. The ETF strongly supports the inclusion of RPAS into the scope of the EASA Basic Regulation, as well as other regulatory initiatives aiming to ensure a safe co-existence of manned aircraft and RPAS in line with the principle “one sky – one safety”. As an outcome of joint work of the Pilot Working Group and the Air Traffic Management Committee, the ETF Civil Aviation Section adopted in December 2016 the ETF views on remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS).
The document enumerates major risks of drones operations, such as collision, human factor, terrorist attacks, cybersecurity and third party risks. It further calls for a robust regulatory framework including categorisation of drones, pilot licenses for drones, training, registration, hardware requirements and airspace separation.