European industry unites on requirements for future drone integration rules

If lawmakers do not address the needs of ‘hand flown’ aircraft and fail to ensure manned and unmanned activities are effectively co-ordinated, any rules governing drone traffic integration are likely to generate unacceptable legal risks for both operators and air navigation service providers.

According to a new joint paper published by members of Europe’s leading aviation associations as part of an initiative called We are ALL ONE in the Sky, the specific characteristics of manned aircraft (e.g. hand-flown rescue, police helicopters, general aviation and air sports) versus new automated technologies of unmanned systems (e.g. detect and avoid) need to be considered as a matter of priority.

The initiative sees 15 signatories supporting a robust, harmonised, EU-wide regulatory safety framework that enables the safe, secure, efficient and fair integration of drones in the aviation system and fosters broad public acceptance. In order to facilitate the integration of drones in very low-level airspace (i.e. below 500 ft) and preserve the high level of safety in the entire European airspace, they are jointly calling for the acceleration of a number of measures.

“The responsibility and liability of all actors using and managing the airspace must be clearly defined,” they state, offering as an example, U-Space in flight information regions where air navigation service providers have up until now had full responsibility.

Here, they said, the regulatory framework needs to make clear where responsibilities and liabilities lie. Clarity also needs to be provided on the relationship between existing air navigation service regulations, Standardised European Rules of the Air (SERA) and the U-Space regulatory framework not to mention the ICAO rules of the air, including right of way and required position reporting of all airspace users.

Protecting airports and aerodromes must also be clearly addressed with the appointment of authorities responsible for policing together with a need to identify local particularities such as geography, environment, obstacles and traffic flows.

The signatories also said there is an emerging and urgent need for industry standards on counter-drone technologies. “To prevent any disruption, a two-fold strategy should be implemented: the airspace around an airport/aerodrome needs to be protected, based on risk, to prevent unauthorised drones from entering it and unauthorised drone activities need to be detected at the earliest possible stage,” they said.

The We are ALL ONE in the Sky initiative supports further measures to create a proportionate, risk- and performance-based regulatory framework and its members from both the manned and unmanned aviation industries said they would commit to safe and orderly flight operations.

They believe that additional critical principles which need to be addressed in the regulatory framework currently under development by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Commission include

  • enabling common airspace situational awareness through information exchange
  • maximising airspace capacity and value through integration, not segregation
  • maintaining & improving today’s high safety level
  • creating a flexible framework to accommodating an evolving industry