While UAS operators in the United States are frustrated at the slow pace of UAS integration, at least we have something the Europeans do not, uniformity. Imagine trying to run a broad based UAS business in this country if there was no FAA oversight. The patchwork of restrictions and permissions would by dizzying, not to mention having to face 50 different licensing and registration systems.
Despite the fact the European Union has unified much of its law pertaining to aerial operations, they have not done so for the bulk of UASs. Because of the obvious potential hazards, the EU has regulations governing operation of UASs in excess of 150 kg (330 pounds). UASs below that weight are regulated only by the member countries.
Currently, there are eight countries that have granted some type of permission for UAS operations, with the leaders being the UK, France, Germany and Spain. Unfortunately, getting authorization to fly in one country does not give any reciprocal rights in any other country. The remainder of Europe is a combination of outright bans and a wild west “do whatever you can get away with” attitude.
As UAS users continue to proliferate, and the discrepancies between the laws of each country continue to grow, the pressure for the EU to act and set general European standards also continues to grow. Just recently, Matthew Baldwin, Director of Aviation and International Affairs with the European Commission announced that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was in the best position to develop comprehensive standards, and that he envisioned a European Commission proposal early next year that would cover safety, liability, insurance, security and privacy issues. EASA also intends to work closely with other international stakeholders like the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Joint Authorities on Rulemaking for Unmanned Systems (JARUS) to create a truly international standard.
In addition to ensuring safety, the European Commission is also looking to use the regulations to secure European dominance in the market for UAS. The idea is to create the broadest possible unified market, operating under one set of rules with one set of standards. This, of course, is the greatest threat to future American dominance in global UAS production and operation. If the United States is the biggest market on the block, it can greatly influence global standards. If the Europeans coordinate and create a single market and set of standards, then at the end of the day, they may be the ones calling the tunes.
The race is on!
(Originally posted September 16, 2014)