Aviation safety, EASA and drones rules: Council adopts its position

Council of the EU
  • 01/12/2016
  • 11:15
  • Press release
  • 698/16
  • Transport
  • Single market
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On 1 December 2016 the Council agreed on a general approach on revised common safety rules for civil aviation and a new mandate for the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The draft regulation contains the first ever EU-wide rules for civil drones to fly safely in European airspace.

This 'EASA basic regulation' will allow the EU aviation sector to continue to develop safely in the future. It sets conditions under which the aviation industry can thrive and remain competitive and innovative in the global market. A reform of the rules is necessary to embrace the expected EU air traffic increase by 50% in the next 20 years and make aviation ready to face the tough global competition.

"Civil aviation reform is an important development for a competitive, innovative and future-resilient aviation industry. I welcome that the rules are proportionate to risks and that we allow aviation to embrace innovation and future developments, such as drones. And we allow for pooling and sharing of resources between member states, crucial for spreading expertise."

Arpád Érsek, Slovak Minister for Transport, Construction and Regional Development and Chair of the Council

Encouraging innovation with more proportionate safety regulation

The reform introduces proportionate and risk-based rules to reduce red tape and encourage innovation, recognising that the risks involved in the various sectors of civil aviation are different. Aircraft presenting lower risks such as helicopters or light sport aircraft will be subject to simpler and cheaper approval procedures than commercial aviation.

Rules on drones to ensure safety, security and privacy

EU-wide rules on drones will provide the basic principles for ensuring safety, security and privacy. The text brings legal certainty for this rapidly expanding industry that includes a large number of small and medium-size enterprises and start-ups.

For safety reasons, all drones are covered, from small 'toys' weighing just a few grams to large unmanned aircraft which can be as heavy and fly as fast as an aeroplane. At present the EU is competent for regulating unmanned aircraft above 150 kg, while lighter drones are subject to national rules.

As risks arising from drone operations vary a great deal, the rules should be proportionate. In particular, these rules should take into account the extent to which other air traffic or people on the ground could be endangered. Higher-risk operations will require certification, while drones presenting the lowest risk would just need to conform to the normal EU market surveillance mechanisms.

When it comes to the protection of the environment, drones will also have to respect rules for noise and CO2 emissions, just like any aircraft.

On the basis of these principles, the EASA will develop more detailed rules on drones through a Commission implementing act. This makes it easier to update them as technology develops. The EASA has already published a 'prototype' regulation for drones.

The implementing measures should build on member states' best practices and take into account member states' local characteristics such as population density. Member states will also have a right to limit drone operations for reasons such as security, privacy, data protection or the environment, just as they can limit any other types of air operations.

Some other elements of the proposal

The new rules will step up cooperation between EU countries, the Commission and the EASA on security matters related to civil aviation, such as cyber security and flight over conflict zones. The EASA's technical assistance will be sought in matters where there are interdependencies between safety and security, as issues of pure national security fall under member states' competence. As regards the EASA's budget, the originally proposed addition of en-route charges as a new source of funding raised concerns related to cost-neutrality and legal and practical difficulties. Therefore, no changes are to be made to financing of the EASA. Under the current system 70% of EASA funding comes from industry and the rest from the EU budget. Similarly, no new oversight mechanism should be created allowing the EASA to take over certain oversight tasks. A possible need to solve safety deficiencies is addressed through other means such as making the best use of existing resources by pooling national experts or by joint oversight exercised by several national competent authorities. In addition, member states will have the possibility of pooling and sharing their resources as a group of a maximum of five participants to oversee an airline if they wish to do so.

How will this proposal become law?

The general approach will be the Council's position for talks with the European Parliament. The adoption of the legal act requires the agreement of both institutions.