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European Union: Commission Proposes New Standards Regulating Use of Civil Drones

(Apr. 30, 2014) On April 4, 2014, the European Commission adopted a Communication entitled “A New Era for Aviation, Opening the Aviation Market to the Civil Use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems in a Safe and Sustainable Manner” (European Commission, COM (2014) 207 final, EUROPA (Apr. 8, 2014)).

The Communication constitutes the Commission’s first step to deal at the European Union level with a number of issues associated with the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) and to act to meet the demands of the aviation market in the future. Currently, the EU rules on RPAS are fragmentary and some Members have rules, while others do not. Several EU Members, such as France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, have already used RPAS, while others have not. (Id.)

The Commission projects that by 2050 the aviation market will produce a wide array of different aircraft types, some piloted and others controlled remotely. The Commission also emphasized that if the EU wants to remain competitive with countries such as the United States and Israel, which excel in this area of aviation, it must invest in RPAS. (Id.)

Based on the premise that RPAS are basically aircraft, the Commission determined that they must comply with aviation safety rules. Under the 1944 Chicago Convention on Aviation Safety, RPAS must possess an authorization to fly issued by a party to that Convention. (Convention on International Civil Aviation (Dec. 7, 1944), art. 8, International Civil Aviation Organization website.)

The Communication prioritizes the following critical areas in which standards need to be developed:

• Safety Authorizations. Standards will be based on the principle that civil drones must operate under a level of safety equivalent to that of “manned” aircraft. The Commission called on the European Aviation Safety Agency to begin drafting such standards.

• Security Operations. To avoid unlawful actions and security threats, the Commission called on the European Aviation Safety Agency to prepare rules to protect information streams and establish the specific legal obligations of air traffic controllers, telecom service providers, and other groups in relation to RPAS.

• Privacy and Data Protection. RPAS that collect personal data must comply with the existing EU privacy and data protection rules.

• Liability and Insurance. The Commission intends to examine whether to amend the rules on insurance for manned aircraft to include RPAS.

• Future Action. The Commission plans to carry out an impact assessment in 2014 to review the issues and how to best deal with them. There is also a possibility that the Commission will move forward and introduce legislation. (European Commission Calls for Tough Standards to Regulate Civil Drones, European Commission Mobility and Transport website (Apr. 8, 2014).)