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European integration: The case of UAVs

The recent European elections were characterised by a record low turnout and a perceived increase of anti-European sentiments. Although the media probably gave too much attention to this (still) relatively small phenomenon, the mainstream parties are feeling the pressure and have started echoing similar sentiments like “do nationally what can be done nationally”. However, sometimes the European dimension is desperately needed.

Take the case of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). A whole new generation of smaller and lighter UAVs is entering the market. Among the conditions for developing the market are geographical clustering of clients and economies of scale. Different national regulations with respect to zoning (type of areas to fly over), required permits, certificates and/or licenses, weight categories, etc for UAVs now make this integration very difficult. Add to this the issue of privacy concerns and the story becomes even more complicated: a US company rated Europe with 2 on a scale of 5 in terms of UAV-friendliness.

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A clear European regulatory framework is needed for civilian applications. The European Commission’s DG Enterprise & Industry and DG Mobility and Transport are working on this by developing a European strategy for the development of civil applications of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS). The strategy envisages opening up European civil airspace to unmanned drones by 2016. Last month the Commission backed this up with a communication on ‘a new area for aviation’. Let’s hope this initiative will not become a victim of nationalist tendencies!