The European Commission has called for fresh impetus behind its stalled plans for EU-wide regulation of drones, after a string of near-misses with airplanes across Europe last year.
There were more than 1,200 “safety occurrences" involving drones in Europe last year, including several involving planes, the commission, the EU’s civil service, said.
On April 22, a drone passed by the wingtip of an Airbus A319 with 156 passengers as it came into land at Liverpool John Lennon Airport. In 2016 three planes narrowly missed drones near Heathrow airport, leading to calls for tougher British laws on drones.
“If we don't move fast enough, the near misses between drones and airplanes could one day have disastrous consequences,” Violeta Bulc, the EU’s transport commissioner said.
“Drones offer tremendous opportunities for new services and businesses,” she said, “but safety always comes first”.
The commission drafts laws, which are then amended separately by the European Parliament and national governments sitting in the Council of Ministers. A bill can only enter into force across the EU when an identical text is agreed by MEPs and the council.
In December 2015, the commission put forward a framework of common EU rules governing drones. Today, it demanded the other two institutions moved faster to get them onto national lawbooks.
£441,000 of EU cash is being used to support the demonstration of new “geo-fencing” services. Geo-fencing can automatically stop drones flying into dangerous or restricted areas, such as airports.
In recent years the use of drones has increased. Some are used by hobbyists while others have been used by an array of companies, including estate agents taking aerial photographs of larger properties. Amazon is drawing up plans for drone deliveries.
In November 2016, the EU executive suggested the creation of an automatic traffic management system for drones in a bid to safely introduce them into airspace.
The system is aimed at low-level drones operating at the “U-space”, an area covering up to 150 metres in height.
The U-space blueprint aims to create airspace, particularly in cities, where drones can operate safely, and open the possibility of, for example, drone delivery services.
EU funding worth £7.9 million has been earmarked for projects to accelerate the development of U-space, such as technology allowing drones to communicate with each other.
By James Crisp, Brussels correspondent , 30 September 2017 • 8:20am