Europe plans to have drone rules in place by 2019

The EU says fragmented drone rules between countries hampers innovation.

This article first appeared here

The European Union doesn’t want to fall behind on drones, which could bring in billions in euros to its member states.

The EU’s commission for developing a European air traffic control system said on Friday that its goal is to have rules for the safe operation of autonomous drones ready by 2019.

Ultimately, the EU says that it wants to create a traffic management system for unmanned drones that’s similar to air traffic control for manned planes.

But in the near term, the commission says that in the next two years, it plans to have a European registration system for drones, a solution for keeping drones from flying over prohibited areas and remote identification of unmanned aircraft.

That would put the EU at a similar pace with the U.S., where the Federal Aviation Administration created a new committee in March to work on a remote identification system for drones. The U.S. currently already requires commercial pilots to register their aircraft, but last month a U.S. federal court nixed the registration rule for non-commercial pilots, stating the FAA didn’t have authority to regulate hobbyists.

But for remote identification of drones to work, which will be important for both security and managing traffic, aircraft will likely need to be registered somewhere. Or else drones will operate like an unmarked car on the road, only there’s no driver and no one to pull over if there’s a problem.

The U.S. has rules for not flying over restricted airspace, but those rules aren’t required to be baked into the drone software, like in the form of geo-fencing. Rather, in the U.S., pilots are instructed to avoid flying over restricted areas, though many manufacturers include geo-fencing in their drones anyway. 

It’s unlikely the U.S. will cement remote identification rules without a registration system for non-commercial drones, since law enforcement has voiced concerns about not being able to identify pilots — whether or not the drone is being used to make money or flown for fun. If the EU’s timeline is realized, Europe might skip ahead of the United States. 

The EU says its motivation for putting a due date on its rules is to position Europe as a world leader for emerging drone technology. Currently EU-wide drone rules only regulate drones that weigh at least 330 lbs., and member states are tasked with making their own national rules. 

“Such fragmentation hampers the development of new products, the swift introduction of technologies and may also create safety risks,” reads a statement on the new drone regulation timeline from the European Union.

The addressable global market for drone services, like using drones to deliver packages or inspect construction sites, is valued at over $127 billion, according to a 2016 study from PwC