Civilian Use of Drones in the EU - European Union Committee Contents

Civilian Use of Drones in the EU


1.  2014 could be described as the year of the drone. Airwaves and newspaper columns were filled with the news that Amazon planned to use drones for parcel delivery, while nationalist football fans used one to disrupt a match between Serbia and Albania. As the year drew on, drones were found 'buzzing' close to a nuclear power station in France, and a near miss was reported between a small drone and a passenger aircraft landing at Heathrow airport.

2.  Underlying this increased media interest has been a rapid growth in the commercial use of drones, more correctly referred to as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). In the UK alone, there are now over 600 permissions for commercial RPAS operations enabling many companies to provide services such as photography and land surveying. RPAS have become increasingly popular as an alternative to the use of manned aircraft for aerial surveillance; in future they could be used to carry out many more tasks, such as search and rescue, deliveries and construction repair work. Alongside the expansion in the commercial use of RPAS, they have become increasingly popular for private, leisure users. The Daily Mail described them in December 2014 as "this year's must-have gadget".[1]

3.  In October 2012 the European Commission issued a Staff Working Paper[2] entitled Towards a European Strategy for the development of Civil Applications of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), and established a European RPAS Steering Group. In June 2013, the steering group presented its recommendations to the Commission in its Roadmap for the Integration of Civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems.[3] The roadmap set out a step-by-step approach and timeline for integrating RPAS into the airspace.

4.  Then in April 2014, the Commission published a Communication entitled A new era for aviation, setting out its views on the future regulation of civilian Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) operations in the EU.[4] The Communication builds on the roadmap produced by the European RPAS Steering Group, and sets out the Commission's views on how to establish a policy framework that will "enable the growth of the commercial RPAS market while safeguarding the public interest".

5.  At the launch of the Communication, Siim Kallas, the then Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Mobility and Transport, said:

    "If ever there was a right time to do this, and to do this at a European level, it is now. Because remotely piloted aircraft, almost by definition, are going to cross borders and the industry is still in its infancy. We have an opportunity now to make a single set of rules that everyone can work with, just like we do for larger aircraft." [5]

6.  The initial aim of our inquiry was to assess whether we thought that the Commission had prioritised the correct issues to ensure growth in the RPAS market. A further aim was to feed into the development of RPAS regulations at EU level. The Commission, in evidence to the inquiry, said that it was "open to suggestions from stakeholders to address the issues to make the creation of the EU RPAS market possible".[6] We have taken up that invitation.

7.  We have also investigated the issues which will affect the growth of the RPAS market, including the requirements for safe operations and airworthiness. We have considered societal concerns around the increasing use of RPAS, particularly in respect of data protection and privacy. Our consideration of all these issues has taken account of technological developments, as well as the over-arching question of where competence for rule-making should lie.

8.  In the course of our inquiry we visited Cranfield University to see first-hand the rapid deployment and data collection capabilities of RPAS to assist in situations such as accident investigation. The Committee also discussed the potential growth of the RPAS market with the European Commission and officials from European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and EUROCONTROL.

9.  We would like to thank all those witnesses who appeared before us, or who submitted written evidence, for their significant contribution to the Report. They included both small and large companies working in the RPAS industry, RPAS trade associations, and support services such as pilot training organisations.

10.  We make this report to the House for debate.

1   "As cheap as £28, they're Christmas must-haves. But after a near-miss with a plane at Heathrow…Are Drones the ultimate boys' toys or a godsend for snoopers and terrorists?", Daily Mail (12 December 2014): [accessed on 23 January 2015] Back

2   Commission Staff Working Document, Towards a European strategy for the development of civil applications of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS). SWD(2012) 259 Back

3   European RPAS Steering Group, Roadmap for the Integration of Civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems into the European Aviation System (June 2013): [accessed on 10 February2015] Back

4   Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: A new era for aviation: Opening the aviation market for the civil use of remotely piloted aircraft systems in a safe and sustainable manner, COM(2014) 607 Back

5   European Commission 'European Commission calls for tough standards to regulate civil drones', (8 April 2014): [accessed on 21 January 2015] Back

6    Q77 Back

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