The popularity of commercial drone flights is growing rapidly. In fact, the market for civilian drones will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19% between 2015 and 2020, with sales of drones estimated to top $12 billion in 2021, according to BI Intelligence.

Along with this increased popularity, concerns are growing that drone near misses are on the rise. In one recent case, an Airbus crew on approach to Heathrow spotted a drone as close as one wingspan from their aircraft.

Currently, drone rules vary from country to country in Europe, but late last year the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) released language that now includes Europe’s first ever rules on drones, which require equipment registration very similar to the FAA’s guidelines in the United States.

The EU aims to produce EU-wide rules to make drone use in low-level airspace safer by regulating altitudes up to 150 meters within the next few years. Current key EU regulations include:

  • Drones weighing between 20kg to 150kg are regulated like manned commercial aircraft, and drones weighing above 150kg will be subject to EU regulation.
  • Under German legislation, drones are mostly subject to general aviation rules and commercial regulations, with specific takeoff weight regulations such as: pilots flying a drone over 2kg must take a theoretical examination, while drones over 5kg require an additional license.
  • In the United Kingdom, registration is required for all drones weighing more than 250g while operating in UK airspace.

These moves are good news for business aviation and private pilots flying in EU airspace since standardized safety procedures will become clearer as drone popularity increases. Operators will however also need a way to vet contract drone pilots to ensure they are compliant with the safety standards of a department, particularly with regards to air traffic and near-miss scenarios.

Currently, there are apps and software that can track drones within a designated airspace alerting pilots to potentially dangerous situations. However, there is concern that some of those alerts are giving pilots false positives or false negatives. So, it remains the responsibility of the operator to be vigilant.

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