The European Commission, national authorities and the industry have adopted the “Helsinki Declaration” aiming to deliver advanced drone operations safely and securely in Europe. This Declaration was adopted at a high-level conference on drones organised jointly by the Commission and the Finnish authorities. It identifies three priority areas for sector-wide cooperation in order to ensure that safe commercial drones operations are up and running by 2019.
Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc said “The Commission is focussing on a clean and quiet, safe and secure development of drones. The months ahead will be crucial, but I am confident that the Helsinki Declaration will give us the necessary impetus. It sets out a clear and common strategy endorsed by the entire sector. Let’s now turn words into reality!”
The Helsinki Declaration calls all stakeholders to work in parallel and with maximum cooperation on three pillars:
Legal requirements for drones and drone operations, for the safe and effective use of the airspace, and for the delivery of cost-effective U-Space services. As a first step, this requires the urgent conclusion of the inter-institutional negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council on the Commission’s proposal from December 2015 establishing an EU-wide framework for drones.
Further investment in demonstrators and in longer term R&D projects that prepare for more autonomous vehicles and more dense traffic. The European Union recently launched a series of calls for proposals to speed up the deployment of the U-Space, and more funding will be announced in 2018.
Effective standard setting process that is adapted to the fast evolving digital technologies of the drone and U-Space market.
In December 2015, the Commission proposed to create an EU-wide framework for drones as part of its Aviation Strategy. It tabled a legislative proposal which would allow the establishment of technical rules and standards for drones and drone operations. The European Parliament and the EU Member States are expected to reach agreement as soon as possible on this proposal.
The European Aviation Safety Agency meanwhile has started developing technical rules. An intense consultation is ongoing since 2015 with Member States and industry. A formal opinion on technical rules is expected by early 2018, so that the Commission would adopt concrete rules in the course of 2018. Industry then can develop the corresponding standards.
“U-Space” covers altitudes up to 150 meters and will guarantee that drone use in low- level airspace is safe, secure and environmentally friendly. U-space providers would act just like air traffic service providers for aviation, but in an automated and digital way, effectively informing operators where and how drones can fly, and supplying them with services such as registration and identification of drones. First demonstrator projects have shown the maturity of drone and U-Space technologies, at least for initial drone operations where the drone flies longer distance outside the view of the operator. Europe should build on these U-Space demonstration projects and turn them into a European network under the leadership of the Commission and the European Aviation Safety Agency.
Other industrial and R&D drones projects have been funded by the EU and are in the pipeline under the leadership of the SESAR Joint Undertaking. By working together industry, research and European agencies are building the foundations for the future drone service market in a digitalized economy.
EU network of Drone Demonstrators:
The regulators would need to learn from real practice to make the rules future proof. That is why the Commission, together with the European Aviation Safety Agency, will manage a network of demonstrator projects. These projects can give guidance on where the regulatory bar for safe and secure operations would be set; industry then can demonstrate that their solutions would fall within the regulatory limits. Such reassurance would allow industry to further invest to test the feasibility of their technological solutions and standards.
SESAR Joint Undertaking
Meanwhile EU funding should continue to bring about further steps in automation and digitization. The SESAR funding mechanisms will integrate drones in their working programmes, so that aviation can further embrace digitization.
SESAR is already running exploratory projects for a value of 9 million euros to speed up the development of the U-space, such as the automatic identification of drones or drone-to-drone communication.