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European pilots want rules on drones in the sky

European pilots want regulations on recreational users operating drones: ‘even light ones below 1 kg can cause significant or even catastrophic damage to helicopters.’

Matthew Vella
11 May 2015, 9:58am
Recommendations for worldwide requirements for RPAS are being developed by the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS).
Recommendations for worldwide requirements for RPAS are being developed by the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS).
The commercial advantages and possibilities of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) or ‘drones’ seem almost unlimited. And because of decreasing costs, recreational users and companies using drones will be new actors in the airspace.

But this new technology poses risks that must be on the radar screen of manufacturers, users and regulators. In a new position paper, the European Cockpit Association – the European pilots’ union – have outlined a number of prerequisites for the safe integration of light RPAS, often referred to as ‘toys’, into Europe’s low level airspace.

“A broad misconception is that small drones are harmless ‘toys’ flying at low level. However, RPAS, even light ones below 1 kg, can cause significant or even catastrophic damage to, for example, helicopters in case of a collision as helicopters have a number of vulnerable, critical components, such as the tail rotor or main rotor head,” ECA President Dirk Polloczek said.

“Even below 500 feet there is a lot of air traffic, such as air ambulances, police or fire fighting. The same applies to the airspace next to airports, with a frequent incoming and outgoing traffic. Contrary to scheduled airline flights, most of the low-level air traffic (e.g. police or air ambulances) are not predictable in time and place, but all are subjected to strict air operations rules. So should RPAS be.”

At this moment recommendations for worldwide requirements for RPAS are being developed by the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS).

In Europe, the National Civil Aviation Authorities are currently responsible for RPAS operations with a weight of 150 kg or less, which leads to diverging rules from state to state.

With the ‘Riga Declaration’, signed by the European Commission and various stakeholders, and the European Aviation Safety Agency’s proposed ‘Concept of Operations’ Europe has taken a decisive step to open its skies for RPAS.

ECA has outlined a set of key regulatory standards to ensure safety in lower level airspace when RPAS are integrated with other traffic: 
  • Introduction of approved automatic detection and avoidance equipment on RPAS;
  • Placing responsibility to see and avoid manned aircraft on the pilot of the RPAS;
  • Training and licensing of RPAS-pilots in a way that knowledge and skills – but also awareness and airmanship – are on a comparable level as manned aircraft pilots;
  • Compulsory registration for all RPAS;
  • Informing the public about the dangers of recreational RPAS (DOs and DON’Ts).

“We face an immense challenge to safely integrate RPAS,” said Philip von Schöppenthau, ECA Secretary General. “The Riga Declaration spells out important principles. But we need to be meticulous in our assessment and way forward when it comes to the details. We simply cannot afford to fail. This would be disastrous both for the RPAS industry and for aviation safety. As such we hope that Europe’s future drone rules will be a leading example worldwide when it comes to safety and security.”

Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
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