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European Commission proposes rules for the operation of unmanned drones

The new regulations would allow remotely piloted devices to be treated the same way as piloted aircraft.

Image: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION (EC) has proposed new rules and standards to help regulate the operation of remotely piloted drones.

The new standards, which were proposed today, would mean civil drones will be treated like piloted aircraft and can fly like normal air traffic. The rules will cover those machines which are under human control.

Civil drones, which are used for tasks such as safety inspections of infrastructure such as rail tracks, dams or power grids, are already used in European countries like the UK, France and Sweden. However, there are no clear rules – either at national or at European level – which protects people’s safety, security and privacy.

The standards will cover areas like:

Safety authorisations: EU standards will be based on the idea that remotely piloted aircraft must provide a suitable level of safety to manned aviation operations. These standards will be put together by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

Control on data protection and privacy: Data collected by remotely piloted aircraft must comply with data protection rules while data protection authorities must monitor the subsequent collection and processing of personal data.

Controls to ensure security: As drones can be subject to potential unlawful actions and security threats, the EASA will also begin work on developing the necessary security requirements to protect information.

A framework for liability and insurance: Since liability only applies to manned aircraft, the EC will assess what changes need to be made to include remotely piloted aircraft in these regulations.

The European Commissioner for transport Siim Kallas, said while there are potential benefits behind using drones, the lack of regulation behind them means there are concerns relating to the safety, security and privacy.

Civil drones can check for damage on road and rail bridges, monitor natural disasters such as flooding and spray crops with pinpoint accuracy. They come in all shapes and sizes.In the future they may even deliver books from your favourite online retailer. But many people, including myself, have concerns about the safety, security and privacy issues relating to these devices.

According to Kallas, some estimates say remotely piloted drones will be worth 10 per cent of the aviation market, or €15 billion per year.

The regulations are part of a framework which will see the safe integration of remotely piloted drones and devices into EU airspace from 2016 onwards. The commission will carry out an assessment this year to examine the issues and decide the best way to address these problems. 

Read: Major victory for Irish online rights group as ECJ strikes down EU mobile surveillance rules >

Read: Facebook announces plans to bring the world online using aircraft drones and satellites >

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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