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27th Nov 2021

New EU drone rules take full flight later

  • Some uses of drones will need a certification, but which ones will be determined later (Photo: NeONBRAND)

EU negotiators reached a provisional deal on new rules for drones on Thursday (30 November) - but decided to leave several details to be determined later.

Representatives of member states, the European Parliament (EP), and the European Commission decided that "a certificate may be required" for some civil uses of drones.

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  • MEP Marian-Jean Marinescu: 'The rules will ensure safety, security and protection of privacy for EU citizens' (Photo: European Parliament)

The criteria for certification are left open though, and are to be determined through a separate process known as comitology.

The commission will be tasked with drawing up specific criteria determining when drones and their use should be given a stamp of approval.

The deal was reached in the so-called trilogue format, in which negotiators for the three EU institutions meet to thrash out an agreement, often in marathon sessions throughout the night.

According to EU transport commissioner Violeta Bulc, talks finished on Thursday at 6:03AM.

As is common in the hours after a final trilogue, public information about the actual details is still scarce.

The EU parliament published a press release saying that once the new regulation is in place, "the design and manufacture of drones will have to comply with EU basic requirements on safety, security and personal data protection".

"EU countries will need to ensure that operators of drones that can cause significant harm to people, i.e. by crashing into them, or present risks to privacy, security or the environment, are registered," the press release added.

"These drones will also need to be individually marked to be easily identified."

Drones that can cause significant harm will be "those that in the case of impact against a person, can transfer energy above 80 joules".

According to two parliament sources, there was "lots of discussion" about how details of the legislation will be determined.

There are two options: through implementing acts and delegated acts. Put simply, delegated acts can be vetoed by the parliament, while implementing acts are adopted without any role for MEPs.

Five percent chance

Two days before the agreement, centre-right MEP Marian-Jean Marinescu told a handful of journalists the chance of a deal was only "five percent", mainly because of the haggling over delegated and implementing acts.

Marinescu, a Romanian from the centre-right European People's Party group, said the proposed regulation was "at the same time technical, but also political – very, very, very political".

It was proposed in December 2015. Talks between the parliament and council took almost a year.

The new bill not only includes the first-ever EU rules on drones, but also expands the mandate of the European Aviation Safety Agency, based in Cologne.

According to MEP Marinescu, one of the difficulties in the file was to convince member states to transfer or share powers with the EU agency.

"It's a matter of power," he said.

"They do not think about safety," Marinescu said describing his view of the national aviation authorities' attitude in the file.

"They do not think about industry, they do not think about passengers, these administrative people. No. They think about their body, their authority. To keep the jobs, to keep the seats and so on."

He said there was also "big opposition" towards changing the name of the agency, from the European Aviation Safety Agency to the more general European Aviation Agency.

According to the Romanian politician, national authorities were blocking that name change "just to keep a difference" between the EU agency and themselves.

One EP source said on Thursday that the old name, European Aviation Safety Agency, will stay in place.

Nevertheless, Marinescu expressed overall satisfaction with the deal.

"The rules will ensure safety, security and protection of privacy for EU citizens," he said in the parliament press release.

EU promises new dawn for drone makers

The EU Commission has promised to help European drone makers conquer world markets, as part of wider efforts to export EU aviation rules.

MEPs and states scrap over lawmaking powers

Stalled negotiations will begin again in Strasbourg over how to determine some procedures in EU lawmaking, which are ultimately about how much power the EU parliament has.

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