As Techdirt has reported, the FAA is being strangely unhelpful when it comes to authorizing commercial drone use. In that article, Mike warned that this might lead to other countries moving ahead in this fast-developing area, and he was right: the EU body for air safety, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), has now presented its regulatory approach for drones. It is based on three categories of operations and their associated regulatory regime: open, specific and certified (pdf):
The Open operation category of drones, should not require an authorisation by an Aviation Authority for the flight but stay within defined boundaries for the operation (e.g. distance from aerodromes, from people, etc). The “specific” operation category will require a risk assessment that will lead to an Operations Authorisation with specific limitations adapted to the operation. The “certified” operations will be required for operations with a higher associated risk or might be requested on a voluntary basis by organisations providing services such as remote piloting or equipment such as “detect and avoid”.
As the EASA paper quoted above points out, in addition to safety, privacy and data protection are other important areas that need to be addressed. The new EU framework envisages this being dealt with by legislation at a national, rather than European, level. The paper has some suggestions for how this might be done:
The risk regarding privacy (data protection) could be mitigated through the operators self-registration in a web based application maintained by the local authorities. Another solution would be to install chips/Sim cards in drones. Such a web based application or chip/Sim cards could also contribute mitigating the security risk.
The paper also has some interesting thoughts on imminent challenges:
While today flying a single drone in non-segregated airspace with cooperative aircraft can be done with appropriate coordination and special procedures, operation of several of them possibly with non-cooperative aircraft will be much more complicated and will require additional measures. The concept of operations will need to be further developed to address the issues related to operations of fleet of drones in the non-segregated airspace. These operations of fleet of drones will pose new challenges not yet explored with manned aircraft operations.
Meanwhile, in the US, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has put out a “Request for Comments on Privacy, Transparency, and Accountability Regarding Commercial and Private Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” with a closing date of April 20, 2015. Let’s hope it doesn’t take too long to move from words to action.