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


Extending EASA's competence

45.  One of the key proposals outlined in the Communication is that the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) should develop common rules for all RPAS operations, thereby expanding its regulatory powers to include RPAS weighing less than 150kg. This would limit the rule-making powers of national aviation authorities, which currently have competence in this area.

Figure 1: RPAS Regulators


46.  The Communication states that the current divide between national and European regulations for RPAS (whereby those weighing 150kg or more are regulated by EASA and those less than 150kg are regulated by national aviation authorities), is "arbitrary" and "questionable in view of a coherent RPAS safety policy."[43]

47.  The CAA agreed with the Commission: "it is most unlikely that an RPAS of 160kg (EASA) would be assessed in a way that is dramatically different from an RPAS of 140kg (NAA) when performing a similar mission/type of flight".[44] Mr Sivel, of the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS), a body of civil aviation regulators, said that although there was disagreement about what should replace this limit "everybody agrees that 150 kilograms was put there during the initial debates 10 years ago and it does not make sense any more."[45]


48.  The Communication argues that EASA should develop common rules for all RPAS operations, in order to create a single RPAS market across the EU. It states that the current regulatory system for RPAS "is based on fragmented rules for ad hoc operational authorisations" in individual Member States, such that "National authorizations do not benefit from mutual recognition and do not allow for European wide activities, either to produce or to operate RPAS." The result, it argues, is that "a true European Market will not emerge, hampering the development of this sector."[46]

49.  The Communication says that part of the challenge lies in the fact that adequate regulatory frameworks permitting RPAS operations are missing in most Member States.[47] By expanding EASA's competence to include RPAS weighing less than 150kg, the Commission could facilitate small RPAS operations in all Member States by creating common rules. To illustrate this, we learnt that in Belgium there is no regulatory framework which permits commercial RPAS operations, only exemptions for operations conducted by research institutions. Koen Meuleman, President of the Belgian Unmanned Aircraft Systems Association (BeUAS), told us that, as a result, commercial operators fly illegally with no regulatory oversight to ensure safe operations.[48]

50.  The Commission goes on to argue that as a result of the cross-border nature of the aviation industry, EASA is well placed to harmonise rules for RPAS. Margus Rahouja, DG MOVE, said: "We are not looking at it from the local or national markets perspective. Whenever the Commission makes an assessment or a proposal, it has to have a cross-border effect because, otherwise, the internal market is not affected."[49] This view was echoed by Airbus Defence Ltd, which said: "RPAS regulation needs to be globally harmonized in order to permit international cross border operations."[50]

51.  Enabling safe RPAS operations in all Member States will enlarge the RPAS market and remove barriers to entry. EuroUSC said: "Manufacturers need to sell and operators need to operate worldwide, so they want a harmonised approach from day one", a view shared by the National Air Traffic Service (NATS).[51] The Professional Society of Drone Journalists also supported harmonised regulations:

    "Presently each country has its own regulation for RPAS use, this is a large disincentive to opening a successful RPAS operation in Europe".[52]

52.  English Heritage, which uses RPAS to monitor over 400 historic sites and monuments in England, noted that increasing the market for RPAS would "almost certainly stimulate massive technological development and innovation relating to RPAS applications".[53]

53.  Creating a European internal market for RPAS would also assist Europe in negotiating safety regulations for RPAS at an international level. The Communication states that any rules used by EASA should be compatible with ICAO standards and based on international consensus.[54] Aerospace Defence Security Space told us:

    "it is, therefore, vital that there is one set of internationally recognised regulations … [the] region that takes the initiative to progress with a regulatory framework will both drive international regulatory development policy, and simultaneously gain the commercial advantage required to grow its market share."[55]

54.  The Honourable Company of Airline Pilots said that although ICAO provided an "overarching framework" for manned aviation regulations, in practice the "FAA and EASA predominate and most states adopt or copy the processes and practices of one or the other agency."[56]

55.  On the other hand, some witnesses argued that there should be clear limits to EASA's role in regulating small RPAS (those weighing less than 20kg). NATS said: "if an operator intends to only fly in a single country, local laws/standards should be established, primarily to address societal and privacy concerns."[57] The Royal Aeronautical Society said that small RPAS should be managed "under identical regulatory rules as the rest of the [European Union] but with local 'geographic' differences to enable day-to-day operations."[58]

56.  We also heard that national regulations would be more responsive to local need. Ursula Agriculture and the National Centre for Precision Farming recommended a national approach for small RPAS, which would "respond more quickly to developing technologies [and] would better assist the development of industry."[59] BALPA said: "The advantage of regulating at a national level is that it should be much quicker to implement changes, and this is fine whilst the majority of RPAS are small and do not travel far."[60]

57.  While small RPAS flights are currently restricted to remain in view of the pilot and within national boundaries, technological improvements, such as longer battery life, and market demand will require the development of a regulatory framework that permits cross-border flights in the internal market. Mr Rahouja, DG MOVE, agreed: "we [the European Commission] probably need to define exactly what should be done and where", in anticipation of this issue arising in the future.[61]

58.  Substantive concerns were raised about the impact harmonised rules for commercial RPAS operations would have on the existing small-RPAS industry in the UK. English Heritage cautioned that "a framework may be developed and enforced upon member countries that undermines the progress, development and implementation of RPAS already made in that country."[62] Callen-Lenz Associates Ltd was concerned that "any significant changes to regulation governing its existing activities could impact its business base significantly … a similar concern is shared by other RPAS businesses in the UK."[63]

59.  In oral evidence Dr Wolfe, of Callen-Lenz, went on to question the impact a change in the levels of regulations might have on the relationship between regulators and industry. She said that the small-RPAS community in the UK had built up "great rapport" with the CAA, and that as a result "at the moment the UK has some advantage compared with other countries".[64]

60.  Maintaining the UK's lead in the RPAS market will require the Government to continue to play a proactive role in the creation of EU-wide RPAS rules. Mike Lissone, Air Traffic Management Integration Programme Manager at EUROCONTROL, suggested that the UK was already at an advantage in that European regulators sought "the experience you have with flying in the UK because you are quite ahead with developing CAP 722".[65] The Government told us: "we will seek to ensure that any proposals for further regulation or new Implementing Rules are proportionate to the risk and [do] not cause additional barriers to growth in this sector."[66]

61.  Some witnesses questioned EASA's capacity to take on an extra area of competence. The Royal Aeronautical Society said that "centralised control will mean additional administrative and resource pressures on an already stretched EASA", and recommended that "there should be a lighter touch of control from EASA, with authority delegated to a local level, with administrative oversight at a centralised (EASA) level."[67] Jaqueline Foster, MEP, said that EASA had run into difficulties with overregulating rather than harmonising regulations in the past: "That has been a great challenge for them [EASA]."[68]

62.  On the other hand, Thales UK said it was reasonable that EASA had been taking on greater role in harmonising regulations over the past eight years: "This is based on the desire for regulatory harmony in areas such as Airworthiness, Licencing, Aerodrome operations, Personnel and Aircraft operations."[69]

63.  The CAA suggested that concerns about EASA's increased competence somewhat missed the point: "JARUS has already been nominated as the 'rulemaking group' for the current EASA rulemaking programme, and hence the work towards harmonisation is already underway."[70] The role of JARUS is discussed below.

64.  We support the Commission's aim to create an internal market for Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in the EU. EU rules on safety rules will be needed to achieve this, but we recognise the concerns expressed by small RPAS businesses that such rules risk stifling the existing industry. We recommend that EU rules for small RPAS should be flexible enough for Member States to respond to, and support local industry.


65.  JARUS is a voluntary membership body comprising national civil aviation authorities from EU and non-EU countries and regional organisations. Its purpose is to develop technical, safety and operational requirements for the certification and safe integration of large and small RPAS into the airspace and at aerodromes.[71] The Communication recommends that EASA takes a leading role in JARUS and helps it to produce "implementing rules or guidance" for safe commercial RPAS operations.[72] Gerry Corbett, UAS Programme Lead, Intelligence, Strategy and Policy, Safety and Airspace Regulation Group, CAA, summed up this as follows: "Essentially, JARUS is becoming the rule-making team for EASA."[73]

66.  An important advantage of using JARUS to develop safety regulations for commercial RPAS is its international membership. Mr Cremin, Department for Transport, said that JARUS "has in it a number of leading experts in regulatory authorities across the world".[74] Adam Simmons, also Department for Transport, said that JARUS "enables us to share experience" with other countries about how to regulate RPAS.[75]

67.  The international make-up of JARUS also increases the number of countries and international organisations likely to adopt its recommendations. Mr Lissone, of EUROCONTROL, told us that China, Taiwan and South Korea were seeking to join JARUS.[76] Eric Sivel, Chairman of JARUS, said: "Once we have China, all the main actors in the world will be in JARUS, and we all have the objective of [agreeing safety rules for RPAS] quickly."[77] Gary Clayton, Chairman of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association, confirmed that JARUS could be "a very valuable tool for the aviation authorities jointly to create strong regulation and obviously advise EASA and ultimately ICAO."[78]

68.  However, we also heard that JARUS had not recognised the distinction between large and small RPAS in the past. Mr Meuleman said that the early work of JARUS was very poor in relation to small RPAS, because "if you would literally apply what they write, you will never be able to fly." He continued: "They were technical people or people from the administration that had never seen a drone, in my opinion."[79]

69.  Such an approach reflected concerns about how JARUS, a body consisting of aviation regulators, engaged with the RPAS industry. Aerosynergy Certification Ltd said: "at present, industry is denied access to contribute to JARUS."[80] Thales UK called for greater transparency between JARUS and industry, because "industry will constrain civil RPAS development until standards and regulatory requirements are clear and institutionalised on a transparent and mutually inclusive basis."[81] The Minister said:

    "In the absence of any other international body, I am content that this is the most appropriate form to undertake this role. However, JARUS will work out its relationships with industry, and in particular how industry can make an effective contribution to the work. I will keep that under review."[82]

70.  Mr Simmons said that improved communication between JARUS and industry could be the solution: "ensuring that there is more sharing when it comes to how the manufacturers are developing their products and how they are used, and in feeding into some of their considerations from JARUS."[83] Mr Sivel, of JARUS, said that JARUS had listened to these concerns, and was establishing a mechanism to reach out and improve its relationship with industry.[84]

71.  The Government also noted that JARUS's task was made more difficult because it was a voluntary body without its own resources. Mr Cremin said JARUS "could probably be more effective", and that "managing times and priorities is a key issue for JARUS. Getting the right people in the room at the same time also remains incredibly difficult."[85]

72.  Mr Sivel responded: "One of the questions we are asking ourselves is: should we formalise the existence of JARUS and create an association similar to what existed in the past when the Joint Aviation Authorities existed in Europe or something like that, which will allow JARUS to have a minimum staff to develop?"[86] Over the course of the inquiry, Mr Sivel himself, the EASA representative on JARUS, was elected Chairman, and Christopher Swider, of the Federal Aviation Administration in the USA, was elected Vice Chair to JARUS. A press release, dated 23 September 2014, also stated that a secretariat for JARUS had been created in EASA to support the group's work.[87]

73.  Mr Lissone cautioned against the risk that different entities operating at the European level would each put in place "the perfect plan, perfect roadmaps, perfect deliverables done in splendid isolation."[88] He was seeking to put in place an implementation steering group comprising people from JARUS, EUROCAE, EASA, and other bodies, to synchronise the different work streams. Koen De Vos, of DG MOVE, said that the Commission would also ensure that proposals would incorporate the work being done by its different Directorates-General.[89]

74.  The Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS), through its flexible structure, has the potential quickly to draft safety regulations for the use of RPAS. Working through JARUS should ensure that any future EU rules will be compatible with international arrangements in other countries.

75.  However, stakeholders had legitimate concerns about the transparency and capability of JARUS. We welcome JARUS' intention to involve industry more in its work. To increase the organisation's transparency and improve its reputation, we recommend that JARUS be organised on a more formal basis, and that it receive more resources from national aviation authorities.

76.  We further recommend that the UK Civil Aviation Authority maintain and strengthen its involvement with JARUS.

Other non-EU regulatory frameworks

77.  We have concentrated in this report on the civilian use of RPAS, but we are aware of international agreements governing the military and state use of RPAS, which could potentially hinder the development of the internal market in the EU for the civilian use of RPAS.

78.  The growing use of RPAS for military purposes worldwide led to the development of a number of national treaties governing their export and trade, which lie outside the EU's areas of competence. The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) governs the export of any RPAS with a range of 300km or more and a payload of at least 500kg (referred to as a Category 1 system).[90] The UK, along with the 33 other states party to the MTCR, has agreed not to export Category 1 RPAS, reflecting the aim of the agreement to prevent the export of or trade in systems which could be potentially used for the delivery of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

79.  Thales UK said that the "efficacy" of this treaty should be considered to ensure the right balance between "preventing the proliferation of technologies necessary to produce long range missiles, whilst allowing the legitimate globalisation of RPAS for both military and civil applications."[91] Mr Rahouja, DG MOVE, did not think that the MTCR would necessarily limit trade of RPAS in the internal market, because "19 out of 28 member states" had signed up to the agreement.[92]

80.  Andrew Horton, of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, argued that while the MTCR appeared limiting on paper, its impact on trade in practice could be mitigated. He said that "it must be borne in mind that Category 1 of the MTCR applies to around 5% of all RPAS systems. We are talking about only a small number of potential systems"—though this situation would change as the technology enabling larger RPAS to fly was developed. He also noted that countries that had military links predating the MTCR would still be able to trade in RPAS, including the UK and the US as members of NATO. Where such earlier agreements did not exist, "that is where we run into difficulties."[93] Moreover, Mr Horton said that when it came to "dual use items"[94], an EU-wide agreement existed which allowed the export of RPAS with a range of less than 300km between Member States without an export licence.

81.  Some EU Member States have existing obligations under international treaties, such as the Missile Technology Control Regime, which govern how large RPAS are sold. The Commission will need to consider carefully these obligations as it seeks to create an internal market for RPAS in the EU.

43   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 5 Back

44   Written evidence from the UK CAA (RPA0029) Back

45    Q51 Back

46   Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council entitled: 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 5 Back

47   Ibid p 4 Back

48    Q115 Back

49    Q82 Back

50   Written evidence from Airbus Defence Ltd (RPA0012) Back

51   Written evidence from EuroUSC (RPA0037) and NATS (RPA0036) Back

52   Written evidence from the Professional Society of Drone Journalists (RPA0032) Back

53   Written evidence from English Heritage (RPA0007) Back

54   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 5 Back

55   Written evidence from Aerospace Defence Security Space (RPA0021) Back

56   Written evidence from the Honourable Company of Airline Pilots (RPA0022) Back

57   Written evidence from NATS (RPA0036) Back

58   Written evidence from the Royal Aeronautical Society (RPA0018) Back

59   Written evidence from Ursula Agriculture (RPA0014), the National Centre for Precision Farming (RPA0016); Callen-Lenz Associates Ltd (RPA0004), ARPAS-UK and UAV SIG of RSPSoc (RPA0005)  Back

60   Written evidence from BALPA (RPA0031) and Thales UK (RPA0030) Back

61    Q82 Back

62   Written evidence from English Heritage (RPA0007) Back

63   Written evidence from Callen-Lenz Associates Ltd (RPA0004) Back

64    Q25 Back

65    Q74 Back

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

67   Written evidence from the Royal Aeronautical Society (RPA0018) Back

68    Q103 Back

69   Written evidence from Thales UK (RPA0030) Back

70   Written evidence from the UK CAA (RPA0029) Back

71   JARUS website, homepage: [accessed on 27 January 2015] Back

72   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 6  Back

73    Q14 Back

74    Q4 (Paul Cremin) Back

75    Q4 (Adam Simmons) Back

76    Q66 Back

77    Q52 Back

78    Q39 Back

79    Q120 Back

80   Written evidence from AeroSynergy Certification Ltd (RPA0001) Back

81   Written evidence from Thales UK (RPA 0042) Back

82    Q183 (Robert Goodwill MP) Back

83    Q4 (Adam Simmons)  Back

84    Q51 Back

85    Q4 (Paul Cremin) Back

86    Q53 Back

87   JARUS, Press Release, New appointments and Announcement of Secretariat (23 September 2014): [accessed on 27 January 2015] Back

88    Q65 Back

89    Q84 Back

90   The MTCR regime is supported by a voluntary group of 34 countries, including 19 EU Member States, such as France, Germany and the UK, and other countries such as the US, Canada, and Russia. In 1992, the MTCR extended its scope with the inclusion of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, of which RPAS are a subset, within its definition of 'missiles'. This regime contains a list of goods, software and technology which face export restrictions. This list is divided into two parts. Category I refers to long range missiles, and this includes UAVs (including target drones and reconnaissance drones) capable of delivering and carrying a weight of least 500kg to range of at least 300km. Category II includes UAVS not covered in Category I, capable of a maximum range equal to or greater than 300km. The MTCR has also agreed to a set of guidelines on this list of items which refers to "a strong presumption to deny transfers of Category I systems". Back

91   Written evidence from Thales UK (RPA0030) Back

92    Q85 Back

93    Q6 Back

94   RPAS which could be used for military or civilian purposes. Back

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