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Drones, Including for Consumer Use: European Aviation Safety Agency Demands Urgent Regulations

On 4 May 2016, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced the creation of a task force to investigate and report on the risk of collision between drones and aircraft following a recent increase in reports of near-miss and physicals collisions between drones and aircraft in Europe.

The fear of collisions adds weight to calls from the certification director of the EASA, Mr Trevor Woods, for risk-based regulations relating to Unmanned Air System (UAS) technology to be implemented this year. Mr Woods was speaking at the Unmanned Systems Europe Conference hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) in Brussels held on 22 and 23 March 2016.

Unmanned Air Systems are commonly referred to as drones, remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) or unmanned aircraft. The definition includes aircraft that can either be programmed to fly autonomously without the involvement of a pilot or are controlled by a pilot from a distance.

Hong Kong manufacturers of children’s toys may find it of interest to know that the definition of an unmanned aircraft also includes items not necessary perceived as aircraft, such as flying toys, small tethered balloons or kites, which may be affected by any new regulations. UAS come in a variety of sizes and are manufactured for different purposes.

UAS are increasingly being used throughout Europe without any clear regulations. Currently, the only EU legislation covering UAS is Regulation 216/2008 of 20 February 2008 on common rules in the field of civil aviation and establishing a European Aviation Safety Agency. The International Civil aviation Organisation (ICAO) – a UN body handling civil aviation – has produced its own rules regarding the use of drones. Additionally, some EU Member States have introduced their own rules and regulations relating to UAS.

The task force, composed of aircraft and engine manufacturers, and chaired by EASA, will consult with the 28 European Member States, other relevant stakeholders and foreign authorities. The task force has been established to review recent collisions, analyse studies on the impact of a collision and evaluate the vulnerabilities of several types of aircraft. The task force will also advise on whether any further research and/or testing is necessary.

The results of the task force should be published at the end of July this year. Following this, there will be a workshop for stakeholders to present and discuss the findings and recommendations.

It may be of interest to Hong Kong traders with business interests in the manufacturing of UAS to know that EASA is currently reviewing proposed regulations on UAS manufacturing and use that will be introduced throughout the EU to unify UAS legislation. EASA hopes the new regulations will offer the industry clarity and certainty when developing new UAS technology. Risk-based regulations will focus on the design, production, operation and maintenance of UAS to ensure safe operations and will apply to UAS manufactured for both commercial and non-commercial use. The proposed regulations will take into consideration the energy, size and complexity of the UAS, the design of airspace, density of traffic and the population density of the overflown area.

At this stage, measures that are being considered are the operation of drones within visual line of sight, flying under 150m (above ground level), geo-limitation functions, identification and registration.

At the March conference held in Brussels, the UK called for EASA to introduce realistic regulations to allow for the development of UAS technology. The UK encouraged the industry to continue to develop new UAS technology despite the lack of regulations. The UK supports the introduction of urgent regulations as it hopes to permit beyond line of sight UAS operations at all altitudes by 2020.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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