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European regulators target harmonised UAV guidelines

Representatives from the European Commission and ICAO have expressed a desire for global unmanned air vehicle regulations to be more aligned, so that integration of the technology can be more consistent.

Experts have affirmed that while air traffic management will not adapt to UAV integration – instead, the operation of unmanned systems will have to feed into current air traffic control – more work can be done to ensure this process is better “harmonised” across Europe and globally than is currently the case.

“Nationalised and not very harmonised is the current situation,” Vicente de Frutos Cristóbal, seconded national expert and policy officer for the European Commission, told the AUVSI Unmanned Systems Europe conference in Brussels on 3 March.

Cristóbal explains that in order for UAV operations across Europe to become more harmonised, more routine exposure to non-segregated airspace is required, as is a public acceptance of unmanned operations, which varies across different nations.

“There are different national idiosyncrasies when it comes to public acceptance,” Cristóbal says, adding that a need to further engage with the public is required.

Additionally, the EU’s rules on remotely piloted air system (RPAS) operations must be globally focused, he says, and simple and proportionate to the risk.

The Commission’s Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) effort aims to modernise and harmonise UAV operations, Cristóbal adds, and an upcoming RPAS element in SESAR’s strategy will facilitate this further.

While the Commission and EASA are focused on UAVs with a weight of 150kg (330lb) and above – individual nations typically mandate the requirements of systems that are below this weight – Cristóbal expresses a desire for both bodies to take over more regulatory responsibility of the lower weight systems.

UAVs that weigh just a few kilograms will invariably be controlled by each nation, but EASA and the Commission will eventually take over systems in between. This move is “currently under consideration”.

Meanwhile, Mike Gadd from the UK Civil Aviation Authority – who was representing ICAO at the conference – says the organisation's RPAS working panel is aiming to set a global minimum standard for UAV operations. “To get to this minimum standard is a challenge, because of the sheer number of ICAO members,” he notes.

There are 191 member states in ICAO. Of these, 31 members – consisting of countries and organisations – are on the RPAS panel, and a further seven are observers.

The current scope of ICAO’s RPAS work is to integrate instrument flight rules-equivalent UAV operations in controlled airspace, because this is the minimum standard globally.

This, Gadd admits, is not necessarily where a lot of European nations and organisations are in their UAV integration process, but he says this is not ICAO’s concern.

“Everybody wants standards, but everybody wants standards that are agreeable to them, and that costs time,” Gadd says.

An ICAO symposium is due to be held in Montreal at the end of this month, which Gadd says will inevitably lead to alterations in the organisation’s priorities as interested parties express their interests, and ICAO tries to fit this into its policy-making.

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