The Committee, which has been scrutinising the European Commission's proposals for drones, supports its plans to harmonise safety rules across the EU but argues for flexibility in national safety rules for small drones or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS).
The Committee's report also recognises growing public concern over the use of drones by private individuals, with little knowledge of aviation rules. The report urges the Government and the Commission to adopt a raft of measures to improve safety and the enforceability of existing laws. These include:
- Developing a shared manufacturing standard for drones, such as the CE marking (kite mark);
- Creating an online database of drone operations to track and manage drone traffic. The Committee expects that commercial operators could register their drones on an online database or app in the near future, and that in the longer term it would encompass leisure users as well;
- Widening the application of geo-fencing technology, which limits flights over high risk sites;
- Creating guidance for the police to enforce existing safety rules.
The Committee heard that there is huge potential for growth and jobs in this emerging sector: businesses across Europe are using small drones for photography, filming and surveying, and they can also be used to carry out dull, dirty or dangerous jobs, such as cargo shipping and search and rescue. Evidence given to the inquiry agreed with the Commission’s estimate that around 150,000 new jobs could be created across Europe from drone activity by the year 2050. But the report noted that for this potential to be realised, the safety of drone operations will have to be demonstrated and gain public approval.
The report finds that stifling the industry through over-regulation can be avoided if safety rules are proportionate to risk. The Committee also welcomes the Commission's support for research into key technologies, such as 'detect and avoid', but urges that research projects should include the small drone sector.
The Committee found that current EU and UK legislation adequately covers data protection issues. However it recommends increased guidance on data protection and insurance requirements for commercial operators. In light of evidence that the media and police use of drones will increase, the report also recommends urgent public debate regarding acceptable civilian applications for drones.
Commenting on the report, entitled Civilian Use of Drones in the EU, Committee Chairman Baroness O'Cathain said:
"The growth in civilian drone use has been astonishing and they are taking to the skies faster than anyone could have predicted. We have a huge opportunity to make Europe a world leader in drone technology. But there's also a risk—public understanding of how to use drones safely may not keep pace with people's appetite to fly them. It would just take one disastrous accident to destroy public confidence and set the whole industry back.
"So we need to find ways to manage and keep track of drone traffic. That is why a key recommendation is that drone flights must be traceable, effectively through an online database, which the general public could access via an app. We need to use technology creatively, not just to manage the skies, but to help police them as well."