Guest post: The Politics of RPAS: Regulation and Safety

I am the Rapporteur on the European Parliament’s 2015 report on ‘The Safe Use of RPAS (drones) in Civil Aviation.‘

This was the first ever report by the European Parliament that tackled the issues around regulating this exciting and constantly evolving technology. The last fifteen years have seen rapid growth in this area as technology developed primarily for military purposes is now being applied for commercial use, and it is now time to set out a regulatory framework.

As the Conservative Transport Spokesman in the European Parliament, with many years experience in aviation, I have specialised in this sector. When the Commission draft of the future of RPAS in the civil sector came forward I thought it was important for me to take it.

From monitoring power lines, checking crops, at rock concerts to assisting in engineering projects or natural disasters, drones are being used constantly, often without public knowledge. It is clear that their popularity as an alternative to manned aircraft, including use for previously impossible operations, will increase massively.

Safety must always be paramount, but in order to prevent regulating the industry out of existence this should be done on a risk based case-by-case approach, rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all.’

The vast majority of users are responsible and serious, but there are some who on occasion behave irresponsibly. It is vital that our airports, nuclear facilities and peoples’ privacy are protected. Training is essential, particularly when they are used in areas with large numbers of people nearby. According to the BBC’s recent programme on NATS, there are only four people qualified to operate drones in central London, for example.

Regulation is needed but we need a global and international approach. Drones cross borders so there’s no point trying to regulate them in isolation! It’s a matter of how you regulate without putting an unnecessary burden on the manufacturers to end-users that could adversely affect the entire market.

With the release of the ‘Prototype Commission Regulation on Unmanned Aircraft Operations’ in August, we have a good basis on which to move forward quickly. Politicians and the regulatory bodies need to work speedily to enact basic rules and fully utilise the economic potential and positive benefits.

Europe – and the UK in particular – are already world leaders in drone technology. We have huge manufacturing companies and advantages, selling our products worldwide as well as across Europe. Although the United States is rightly seen as the leading user for military operations it is important to note that Europe is the clear leader in their civilian use.

Drones clearly represent major opportunities for competition to build on the world-class products we already have on offer. There are ways we can regulate this sector effectively but my message is clear, we must only do so in ways that will not damage but rather will help it to grow and prosper. It is a win, win!

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