The decision was announced today at a EU Council of European transport chiefs meeting to agree on a new mandate for EASA as well as a general approach on common safety rules and draft EU-wide rules governing civil drones.
This general approach will be the Council’s position for talks with the European Parliament and adoption of the legal act will require the agreement of both institutions.
Under the current system, 70 per cent of EASA funding comes from industry and the rest from the EU budget but the idea of tapping en route charges to fund an ever greater workload has proved unpopular with the European airline community.
In a joint position paper, European airline groups opposed the move to fund EASA through route charges. “Indeed, pursuant to international law, route charges may only include costs related to air navigation services and, more specifically, navigation services specifically provided to the company actually paying a charge,” it noted.
They supported an alternative mechanism to set up a system to monitor the required workload of the agency. “In the event of a decrease in demand the agency should adjust fees and charges-financed staffing levels downwards,” it proposed. “Necessary staff reductions would be achieved by making use of fixed-term contracts and natural turnover in posts underpinned by a sound planning of future tasks.”
In addition to no changes to the financing of EASA, the general approach adopted by European transport ministers wants any move by EASA to take over certain oversight tasks performed by national supervisory authorities to be dropped too.
“A possible need to solve safety deficiencies [should be] addressed through other means such as making the best use of existing resources by pooling national experts or by joint oversight exercised by several national competent authorities,” the Council noted.
One measure to ease the regulatory burden for smaller EU nations could see member states allowed to pool and share resources as a group of a maximum of five nation supervisory authorities to oversee an airline if they wish to do so.
Here, the joint airline position noted that the pooling of European aviation inspectors should not result in any additional burden or charges for the aviation industry and that the pool should not lead to an initiative to increase charges or financial benefits by “harmonising to the highest value”.
Otherwise, the Council said proposed changes to EASA’s basic regulation will allow the European aviation to develop safely in the future: “It sets conditions under which the aviation industry can thrive and remain competitive and innovative in the global market. A reform of the rules is necessary to embrace the expected EU air traffic increase by 50 per cent in the next 20 years and make aviation ready to face the tough global competition.”
The reform introduces proportionate and risk-based rules to reduce red tape and encourage innovation, recognising that the risks involved in the various sectors of civil aviation are different. Aircraft presenting lower risks such as helicopters or light sport aircraft will be subject to simpler and cheaper approval procedures than commercial aviation.
The proposed EU-wide rules on drones will also provide the basic principles for ensuring safety, security and privacy. The text brings legal certainty for this rapidly expanding industry that includes a large number of small and medium-size businesses and start-ups.
For safety reasons, all drones are covered, from small ‘toys’ weighing just a few grammes to large unmanned aircraft which can be as heavy and fly as fast as an aircraft. At present the EU is competent for regulating unmanned aircraft above 150 kg, while lighter drones are subject to national rules.
“As risks arising from drone operations vary a great deal, the rules should be proportionate. In particular, these rules should take into account the extent to which other air traffic or people on the ground could be endangered,” it said. “Higher-risk operations will require certification, while drones presenting the lowest risk would only need to conform to the normal EU market surveillance mechanisms.”
When it comes to the protection of the environment, drones will also have to respect rules for noise and CO2 emissions, just like any aircraft.
On the basis of these principles, EASA will develop more detailed rules on drones through a Commission implementing act which will make it easier to update as technology develops. The EASA has already published a ‘prototype’ regulation for drones.
The implementing measures should build on member states’ best practices and take into account member states’ local characteristics such as population density. Member states will also have a right to limit drone operations for reasons such as security, privacy, data protection or the environment, just as they can limit any other types of air operations.
Other elements of the proposal
The new rules will also step up cooperation between EU countries, the Commission and the EASA on security matters related to civil aviation, such as cyber security and flight over conflict zones.
EASA’s technical assistance will be sought in matters where there are interdependencies between safety and security, as issues of pure national security fall under member states’ competence.