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


What are RPAS?

11.  Until recently the majority of RPAS were used either for recreational or military purposes. Small radio-controlled model aircraft have been flown by enthusiasts in many countries for decades. Today, the British Model Flying Association represents over 820 affiliated clubs in the UK. As for military use, the first recorded use of a remotely piloted aircraft was in 1935, when the Royal Navy used the DH82 Queen Bee for target practice. Over the last 10-15 years the United States military in particular has developed more sophisticated RPAS for reconnaissance and operational purposes. These military aircraft, such as the Global Hawk and Predator, have commonly been referred to as 'drones'.

12.  This inquiry has been concerned with the more recent substantial growth in the civilian, and in particular the commercial, use of RPAS, for example in aerial photography, surveying and monitoring crops. We have not considered military uses of this technology. We have, however, examined the growing leisure use of RPAS.



13.  Terms commonly used to describe RPAS include drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The term UAV includes Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) as well as autonomous aircraft which can operate without the intervention of a pilot. Many view the use of the term 'drone' as inaccurate and misleading, as it fails to capture either their purpose or degree of technological sophistication. AM-UAS Ltd said that the use of the term 'drone' "unfortunately persists in the civil sector and its military connotations bring a negative association to many parts of the industry."[7]

14.  For the purposes of this report, we have decided to adopt the European Commission's preferred term, Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS). As the term itself implies, RPAS are controlled by a pilot, normally on the ground, who may directly control or intervene in the management of the flight.

15.  The basic components of an RPAS are the aircraft which flies in the air, the pilot station (ground station), and the command and control link (C2) connecting the two. The command and control link is a radio data link between the pilot station and the aircraft, which enables the pilot to give commands to, and download data from, the aircraft along radio waves on a selected frequency.

16.  As the RPAS sector has evolved, the degree of variation in each of these components has increased. RPAS include very small, toy-like rotary aircraft weighing as little as a few grams; fixed-wing aircraft which can be launched by hand or by slingshot; and aircraft with a 40 metre wing span. The pilot could be standing outside on open ground controlling the aircraft with a handheld radio-control unit, or located inside a secure building with a sophisticated control console using satellite connections to communicate with the aircraft. The technology or materials loaded onto the aircraft to enable it to collect data or complete specific tasks, referred to as the payload, also vary depending on the purpose of the operation—examples include cameras and fertilisers.


17.  Our interpretation of civilian use of RPAS includes use by commercial businesses for a profit, as well as leisure use by private individuals. For private individuals, a distinction can be drawn between 'hobbyists', who are traditionally members of a flying club and have a good knowledge of aviation, and the 'leisure user' who buys an RPAS off the shelf to fly in a back garden or in a local park.

18.  One of the issues encountered in our inquiry has been the inconsistency of the regulatory framework, which creates an artificial distinction between commercial and non-commercial use of RPAS. The assumption that all non-commercial RPAS users had a pre-existing knowledge of aviation no longer stands. Technological developments have also resulted in similar aircraft being used by commercial, hobbyist and leisure users, but under differing regulations. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)said:

    "Additionally, there is now a new 'leisure use' emerging which should be noted. Due to the ever decreasing size and cost of some systems as technology develops, small unmanned aircraft are now being used by the general public as their 'personal camera', offering new types of 'holiday snap'. This is a different use from either the traditional model aircraft enthusiast, or the 'commercial operator'. We have already seen instances of foreign tourists bringing their 'drone' on holiday with them and using it to take photos of notable landmarks in London. This type of footage is also shared online via sites such as YouTube."[8]

19.  Although the focus of this inquiry is on the commercial use of RPAS, the implications of their leisure use are considered in Chapter 8.

Civilian Applications for RPAS

20.  We heard many examples of innovative applications for the civilian use of RPAS which could enhance existing services and industries. Flirtey, an RPAS delivery company based in New Zealand, said that it planned to use RPAS to "revolutionise three industries—online retail, fast food and logistics."[9] Amazon has also publicly announced plans to consider using small RPAS for deliveries.[10] The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) said that, in addition to transport, RPAS could be used to suspend lightweight screens to project films or advertising.[11] Callen-Lenz Associates Ltd and the Professional Society of Drone Journalists said that RPAS could be used to provide Internet connectivity in remote locations.[12] In fact Google and Facebook are both interested in harnessing this technology to ensure greater access to their web-based services.[13]

21.   Mirko Kovac, Director of the Aerial Robotics Laboratory at Imperial College London said that, if combined with robotic technology, RPAS could be used to "repair structures or construct buildings autonomously."[14] Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd said it was piloting the use of RPAS for surveillance of railway infrastructure, because it improved "workforce safety by enabling such surveys to be carried out from a position of safety".[15] Carl Robinson, from the British Antarctic Survey, said that RPAS were being using as "science platforms in order to carry out Polar research", because of their low cost, availability and unique capabilities.[16]

22.  It is impossible to provide a definitive categorisation of the different civilian uses for RPAS, since new uses are being developed all the time. Nevertheless, Table 1 combines a description of the most common applications for civilian RPAS with some indication of their size and cost.

Table 1: Breakdown of RPAS use in the UK
Category (approximate weight) Current and potential applications Price and quantity
SMALL (0-20KG)
'toy' RPAS (few hundred grams)
·  Leisure use

·  Commercial use (surveillance and inspection of hard to reach areas)

·  Limited flight capability due to poor battery life

·  Available to buy on the high street and online

·  ~£100 for leisure use

·  ~£10,000 for specialised use

·  Estimated to be tens of thousands of toy-like RPAS in the UK

Small RPAS (< 2kg) ·  Leisure use

·  Commercial use (photography)

·  £100-£900

·  Estimated to be thousands in the UK

Small RPAS (2-7kg) ·  Mainly commercial use (photography, aerial surveying and inspection)

·  Large recreational models also available

·  £500-£4,000

·  ~360 units used commercially

Small RPAS (7-20kg) ·  Mainly commercial use (photography, aerial surveying and inspection)

·  Some specialist recreational models produced

·  £4,000-£20,000

·  ~150 units used commercially

LIGHT (20-150KG)
Light RPAS (20-50kg) ·  Potential to inspect pipelines/power cables, spray crops, search and rescue ·  £40,000-£100,000 depending on endurance and technology

·  2 units used commercially

Light RPAS (50-150kg) ·  Potential for border surveillance; forest fire monitoring ·  Few for commercial use

·  < £300,000 depending on airworthiness certif-ication requirements

LARGE (>150KG)
Large RPAS (> 150kg) ·  Potential for cargo transport

·  Potential to remain airborne for days, if not months, and travel thousands of miles

·  > £500,000

·  None used commercially at present

Growth in the civilian RPAS industry

23.  The evidence we received confirmed as credible the estimate by the Aerospace and Defence Industries' Association of Europe that 150,000 jobs could be created in Europe in the RPAS sector by 2050.[17] The Commission said that these new jobs would be spread across manufacturers, operators and the broader supply chain of enabling technologies.[18] A market study conducted in 2014 by Teal Group, an aerospace and defence consultancy company, suggested that the share of global spending on RPAS for civilian (as opposed to military) applications could increase, as a proportion of total RPAS spending, from 11 to 14 per cent in the next decade.[19] The Commission believes that the RPAS market has the potential to make companies in all sectors more competitive.[20] BALPA, EuroUSC and Accenture said that RPAS would put aviation capability in the hands of "every business on the planet", enabling them to complete tasks efficiently.[21]

24.  The most rapid commercial market growth has come from the small RPAS sector.[22] In the UK, this has mainly involved the sale of services, for example the collection and sale of surveillance data products and photographs. The Royal Aeronautical Society said that this trend was set to continue because "the amount of investment is less, the technology is more versatile, more readily available, accessible, and easier to use" than existing methods.[23] Robert Goodwill MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (hereafter referred to as the Minister), said: "The CAA has experienced a big jump in applications for commercial use of small unmanned aircraft, and it has issued approximately 670 permissions so far in 2014".[24]

25.  There has also been large growth in ancillary services to the RPAS industry. Resource Group Ltd, a UK based company training RPAS pilots, said that it had trained more than 300 pilots for small RPAS and planned to train more than 500 pilots in 2015.[25] André Clot, Director of EuroUSC, another RPAS pilot training company, said:

    "My company has doubled in nine months. I was not expecting that. I have a business plan. Twelve months is too long for a business plan in this business. You have to revise it every three months."[26]

26.  On the other hand, growth in the market for large RPAS has been slow. The Government said that this was directly related to "solving the additional technical challenges associated with flight at greater distances and altitudes, in particular, the airworthiness requirements and the capability to avoid collisions."[27] With regard to large passenger-carrying RPAS, BALPA said that there would be "inevitable resistance" from the public to flying on a machine where "the person who holds their life in their hands does not actually sit alongside them".[28] There would also be little financial incentive to produce a remotely piloted passenger-carrying aircraft because it would still require life support infrastructure for passengers and cabin crew, in addition to the extra expense of building a secure ground base station for the pilots.

27.  However, BALPA did identify some potential in the cargo sector. It noted that a cargo RPAS would not require life support equipment, such as pressurisation and air conditioning, catering, seating, windows or even toilets, as are found in manned cargo aircraft. Such an unmanned aircraft would thus be "lighter, cheaper to run, more efficient and easier to build … than its manned equivalent".[29]

28.  Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd, a manufacturer of large, long endurance, gas-filled RPAS, forecasted that its Airlander programme would create 1,800 new jobs within five years and have employees in the tens of thousands by 2050.[30]

Current RPAS Regulations


29.  As aviation developed in the early twentieth century to become an international activity, so too did the principles and regulations governing it. The first key principle of aviation regulation is the categorisation of the airspace which determines where different types of aircraft can fly. By international agreement, airspace is designated into classes A-G according to different types of aircraft operations. The designation indicates the level of air traffic management service that is provided and the minimum equipment and pilot competence required to fly. Class A airspace has a full air traffic management 'separation' service and is reserved for professional pilots flying sophisticated commercial aircraft. In contrast Class G airspace is used by pilots of small aircraft, gliders and micro lights, and there may be no air traffic management service whatsoever.[31]

30.  In addition, sections of the airspace can be restricted for special purposes, most often for military training operations or special RPAS operations. Such airspace is generally called segregated airspace, as it is segregated from other aircraft, and access is limited to authorised aircraft only. Air traffic management services may or may not be provided.

31.  Today most small RPAS operations are restricted to Class G airspace below 500ft above ground. While this is not formally segregated, it is largely free of normal aircraft traffic. Radar tracking of aircraft is not usually provided in this airspace.

32.  A second key principle within aviation regulation is the separation between regulation of the physical systems (airframe, engines, flight control software) and of the operation of the aircraft. Airworthiness regulations refer to the certification of the systems and includes design, manufacture and ongoing maintenance to ensure that the aircraft is safe to use. Operational regulations refer to rules regarding what makes an aircraft safe to operate, including pilot training and licensing and the use of air traffic management services.


33.  The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was created in 1944 upon the signing of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (commonly referred to as the Chicago Convention), as a UN specialised agency.[32] ICAO publishes Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) which are intended to assist States in developing national aviation regulations. Each ICAO member country has a national aviation agency, or agencies, to oversee the different aspects of civil aviation, such as pilot licensing or air traffic management services.

34.  Under Article 8 of the Chicago Convention, all RPAS regardless of size are prohibited from flying over another state's territory without its permission.[33]

35.  ICAO set up an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Group (UASSG) in 2007, which brought together experts from its Member States, stakeholder groups and industry, to discuss the impact of RPAS on aviation regulation. In November 2014, in response to the rapid developments in RPAS technology, the UASSG was elevated to the status of a Panel, and it aims to publish Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) on unmanned aircraft by 2018.[34] These SARPs will include guidance on airworthiness, operations and pilot licensing.

Table 2: Aviation Regulators
International International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)
Regional (Europe)European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)
National (UK)Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)


36.  In 2003, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was established in Cologne. It is responsible for the airworthiness and operations of aircraft within the EU. EU Regulation 216/2008 provides that EASA is responsible for civil RPAS over 150kg, leaving RPAS below 150kg and Member State use of RPAS (military and non-military) as the responsibility of Member State authorities.[35]

37.  EASA is supported by two other agencies, EUROCONTROL and the European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE).[36] EUROCONTROL coordinates the air traffic management services across Europe and conducts research, while EUROCAE drafts the airworthiness and operational standards for aircraft.


38.  The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is responsible for regulating RPAS below 150kg. The CAA bases its regulations on the size of the RPAS, with small RPAS categorised as weighing up to 20kg and light RPAS weighing 20-150kg.

39.  The CAA's main legislative tool is the Air Navigation Order (ANO) 2009, which draws together legislation covering all aircraft, air traffic management, crew, passengers and cargo.

40.  The application of articles of the ANO to military, commercial and leisure RPAS operations is explained in 'CAP 722', a guidance document generated by the CAA.[37] It describes the safety requirements that have to be met in terms of airworthiness and operational standards before an RPAS is allowed to operate in the UK. The document is widely referred to by other states when developing their own regulations. Box 1 outlines the provisions of the ANO relating to RPAS.

Box 1: RPAS and the Air Navigation Order 2009
Article 138, which applies to all aircraft, including RPAS, irrespective of weight, stipulates that "a person shall not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property".[38]

Other provisions which apply to all RPAS are:

·  A person must not cause or permit any article or animal (whether or not attached to a parachute) to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft so as to endanger persons or property (light RPAS under Article 129; small RPAS under Article 166).

·  The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can be made safely (light RPAS under Article 87; small RPAS under Article 166).

Articles 166 and 167 state that for small RPAS (<20kg) the following rules apply:

·  The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions. RPAS should be flown within the visual range of the remote pilot or observer, or a maximum range of 500m, whichever is less.[39]

·  Small RPAS are limited to fly to a maximum height of 400ft.

·  Small RPAS are prohibited from flying in air traffic controlled airspace (Class A-E) and aerodrome traffic zones without authorisation of an Air Traffic Control (ATC) unit.

·  The pilot is required to seek permission from the CAA for aerial surveillance or data gathering work.

·  Small RPAS used for surveillance should not be flown:

·  over or within 150m in any direction of any densely populated areas;

·  within 50m of any person (other than the remote pilot; or persons under control of the remote pilot), vessel, vehicle or structure (30m during take-off and landing).

·  Small RPAS are exempt from the normal Air Navigation Order requirements for airworthiness certification, flight crew licensing and the 'rules of the air' although they must be operated safety.

All Articles of the ANO apply to RPAS between 20-150kg. Operators are required to certificate airworthiness, have a permit to fly or a licensed flight crew and to follow the Rules of the Air. If this is not possible, the CAA may be prepared to issue an Exemption under Article 242 of the ANO.

The Commission's Communication

41.  The Communication states that greater access to the airspace over time is essential to achieving growth in the RPAS industry. For large RPAS this means integrating operations into the non-segregated airspace shared with other users and, where appropriate, controlled by air traffic management services. For small RPAS this means increased access to airspace over congested areas, which Commission officials described as "civilian habitat" or "cities".[40] The future success of the RPAS industry as a whole depends on flight operations which can take place over greater distances beyond visual line of sight of the pilot. The Roadmap for the Integration of RPAS into the European Aviation System said: "all experts agree that the insertion of RPA in airspace will be gradual and evolutionary", and outlines a timeframe for action between 2013 and 2028 to accomplish full integration of RPAS into the European airspace.[41]

42.  The Communication sets out plans to create a single market for RPAS by harmonising the regulations for the airworthiness and operations of RPAS. This particularly affects the small RPAS industry which is developing in different ways across Member States. The Commission aims to do this by extending the competence of EASA to include RPAS with a mass below 150kg.

43.  In order to meet the technology needs for RPAS, the Communication recommends streamlining Research and Development projects to prioritise the most pressing technological challenges, such as 'detect and avoid' technology, critical to both large and small RPAS.[42] The Commission plans to achieve this by including RPAS-specific projects within the EU's existing Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU).

44.  Alongside the progressive integration of RPAS into European airspace from 2016 onwards, the Communication suggests plans to encourage public debate about measures to address societal concerns. These include perceptions of safety, data protection, security and liability in case of an accident.

7   Written evidence from AM-UAS (RPA0006)  Back

8   Written evidence from UK CAA (RPA0029) Back

9   Written evidence from Flirtey (RPA0050) Back

10   'Amazon testing drones for delivery', BBC News Technology, (2 December 2013): [accessed on 27 January 2015] Back

11   Written evidence from BALPA (RPA0031) Back

12   Written evidence from Callen-Lenz Associates Ltd (RPA0004), and the Professional Society of Drone Journalists (RPA0032) Back

13   'Facebook drones the size of jumbo jets soar 17 miles up', The Telegraph, (25 September 2014): [accessed on 27 January 2015] Back

14   Written evidence from Imperial College London (RPA0048) Back

15   Written evidence from Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd (RPA0026) Back

16   Written evidence from Carl Robinson (RPA0003) Back

17   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, p 4 Back

18   Ibid p 3 Back

19   Overall spending is expected to increase from of $6.4 billion to $11.5 billion, largely driven by the military, Teal Group Corporation 'Teal Group predicts worldwide UAV market will total $91 billion in its 2014 UAV market profile and forecast'; (17 July 2014): [accessed on 27 January 2015] Back

20    Q81  Back

21   Written evidence from BALPA (RPA0031) and EuroUSC (RPA0037). Accenture Technology Labs, It's Time for Flying Robots: Key recommendations for making unmanned aerial vehicles operational (2014): [accessed on 27 January 2015] Back

22   In terms of individual small RPAS units sold, it is believed that a large proportion have been purchased for leisure use.  Back

23   Written evidence from Royal Aeronautical Society (RPA0018) Back

24    Q178  Back

25   Written evidence from Resource Group Ltd (RPA0009) Back

26    Q19  Back

27   Written evidence from the Department for Transport (RPA0011) Back

28   Written evidence from BALPA (RPA0031) Back

29   Ibid Back

30   Written evidence from Hybrid Air Vehicles (RPA0019) Back

31   Commercial manned aircraft operations are largely concentrated in airspace classes A, B and C where a full 'separation' is provided by air traffic management. Small general aviation aircraft, gliders and parachutists mostly operate in Class G, but also in E and where the air traffic management service is limited or non-existent. In such airspace the pilot of each aircraft is responsible for keeping well clear of other traffic. Today, most small RPAS operations take place at a height of less than 400 feet above ground level. Airspace at this height is mostly designated as Class G airspace but near to airfields it may be one of the air traffic management controlled classes, for example, B or D. Back

32   ICAO has 191 Member States which work collectively to harmonise and standardise the use of airspace for safety, efficiency and regularity of air transport. Back

33   The Civil Aviation Authority, CAP 722: Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations in UK Airspace: Guidance (10 August 2012) Section 1, Chapter 2, p 1: [accessed on 27 January 2015] Back

34   An ICAO Panel can generate Standards and Recommendations while this is not possible under an ICAO Study Group.  Back

35   Regulation (EC) No 216/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 February 2008 on common rules in the field of civil aviation and establishing a European Aviation Safety Agency.  Back

36   EUROCAE, the European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment, is a non-profit making organisation which was established in Lucerne, Switzerland in 1963 to provide a European forum for resolving technical problems with electronic equipment for air transport. EUROCAE organises Working Groups (WG) where members provide experts working on voluntary basis. EUROCAE WG-73 was created to analyse and develop standards which will facilitate the insertion of RPAS in all classes of airspace. More recently, a separate Working Group, WG-93 was created to address small RPAS. Back

37   The Civil Aviation Authority, CAP 722: Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations in UK Airspace: Guidance (10 August 2012): [accessed on 27 January 2015] Back

38   The Civil Aviation Authority, 'Basic Principles': [accessed on 25 February 2015] Back

39   This principle is commonly abbreviated to "Visual Line of Sight" (VLOS).  Back

40    Q84; this is similar to the UK definition which defines congested areas. CAP 722 states an RPAS cannot be flown "within 150 metres of any congested area of a city, town or settlement" The Civil Aviation Authority, CAP 722: Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations in UK Airspace: Guidance (10 August 2012) Section 2, Chapter 1, p 3: [accessed on 27 January 2015] Back

41   European RPAS Steering Group, Roadmap for the integration of civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems into the European Aviation System (June 2013) p 5: [accessed on 28 January 2015] Back

42   'Detect and avoid' technology would enable an RPAS to sense objects in the air and automatically avoid a collision. The development of this technology is seen as the prerequisite to increasing access for RPAS to the airspace.  Back

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