As many airports are in a phase of looking into the options for the use of drones in their daily operations, the new EU drone regulations kick off on December 31, 2020. While the current national regulations were rule-based, the new regulations are risk-based. So what does this mean for the future of drone operations? And what are things we need to keep an eye on?
Throughout the past several years, a lot of companies – both locally and globally – have been experimenting with the use of drones in several sectors. Developments have been tested within the medical sector with reference to transporting blood or medicine. But also package deliveries and drone inspections have been developed. At Dutch airports, tests with drones are done with reference to inspecting runways, buildings and aircraft, but also with reference to transporting goods around the airport. The EU regulations will leave a lot of room for opportunities and the further development of drone use at airports.
As said, the new EU regulations are risk-based, but what is the difference with the current regulations? The current (local) regulations are rule-based; leaning on prohibitions, rules and restrictive thinking. While the new EU regulations are focussed on achieving mitigating measures based upon risk assessment. This means there is more room for the development and innovation of new drone applications. With the regulations being implemented in every EU-member state, there will be an uniform norm of safety and there will be more room for cooperation among countries.
Under current law, airports and organisations involved need to get an exemption every single time when they want to do tests and fly with drones in the CTR of an airport. A benefit of the new regulations is that you can request for a declaration or authorisation for a type of flight rather than just a single test flight. If you acquire such authorisation, which is mostly based on risk assessment, you can fly that type of flight whenever you want without asking for a new declaration before every flight. It does not mean you can fly drones wherever you want, because every location or area has different risks and needs a separate declaration or authorisation.
There are some specifics and details which are not published yet or are unclear, which are relevant to keep an eye on for in the future. For instance, the specifics of CE-labels. These labels contain the operational and technical requirements a drone must have in relation to the category it has been classified to (Open, labels C0-C4; Specific, labels C5-C6). For instance, only the C1 and C2 labels have the noise restrictions published. CO and C3 until C6 do not have any information about the noise restrictions (yet). Will that be published soon? Then there is the Certified category. This category will focus mainly on the larger type of drones, e.g. more than 3 meters wide, or the transportation of dangerous goods or people. A lot of information regarding this category has not been published yet, things such as operational requirements. There is talk it will probably look a lot like the regulations on manned aviation.
In the future, when the use of drones has increased as expected due to these new regulations, developments and innovations, the public safety must be maintained. How governments and authorities, but also provinces and communities are going to manage this, is an important development to keep track on.
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