Existing drone tech poses lethal risk: EASA

Europe would see a huge 400-fold increase in potentially lethal air crashes if today’s accident prone drone technology was allowed to operate freely in its airspace.
A study by the European Aviation Safety Agency warns that if the current accident rate suffered by remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS) – or drones – remained unchanged the spike in collision rates between drones and manned aircraft would be ‘unacceptable.’
Commercial use of drones is banned in the United States by the Federal Aviation Administration although, in Europe, eight countries have taken first steps to allow commercial drone activities.
The safety analysis notes that fatal accidents are more likely to occur during the take-off and landing phase and that there is more likelihood therefore of people being killed at airports where the risk to the public is higher than normal.
“It may only take one high-profile accident – fatal or not – before the public questions their safety,” warned EASA. “A cautious approach is therefore necessary to avoid any potential public backlash to the introduction of civil RPAS, and robust arguments need to be put in place in order to defend the position taken.”
“The ability to safely separate and avoid mid-air collisions are essential RPAS capabilities before being granted access into non-segregated airspace,” added EASA. “A mid-air collision is generally considered as having catastrophic consequences for all aircraft types, irrespective of size or weight. Even impacts with small, low weight, RPAS can result in damage that can compromise the safety of both aircraft.”
European pilots’ organisation ECA said regulators and the aviation community must find a way to integrate drones safely into airspace.
“Today, anyone can buy a remote controlled aircraft and use it in civil airspace,” it said. “From movie directors, journalists and hobbyists to farmers and disaster relief teams, popularity of the RPAS technology is growing by the day. But as any new technology, RPAS poses a number of challenges.”
The organisation is preparing its own action plan on how to address the many challenges related to drone use across the world and how to ensure this safe integration into airspace.
At the UAS 2014 conference held in London recently, European regulators admitted to increasing concerns over the safety of integrating unmanned systems into civilian airspace, and especially the risks posed by smaller unmanned aircraft operating alongside commercial airliners.
“It’s similar to the mobile phone or the Internet coming in,” said Matthew Baldwin, who was the then director of aviation at the European Commission (EC). “The question for me is how you promote these activities but with a regulatory framework that addresses the safety and privacy concerns.”
“We believe that EASA is best placed to develop rules, and we envisage an EC proposal early next year to cover safety, liability and insurance, security privacy and so on.” He added that SESAR JU – the Single European Sky’s public private effort to implement advanced ATM technology – has been charged with integrating unmanned operations within a European Master Plan and will work to develop a programme to develop and validate new policies.