The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has published the first worldwide guidance on the use and control of drones in an urban environment.

The agency says its proposed regulatory framework balances a desire to maximise commercial and convenience benefits of drones against the need to ensure the safety and privacy of citizens and limit environmental impact on cities.

EASA has stated that the challenge is to integrate drones into urban environments which are already densely used by ground traffic and other types of air traffic such as commercial aircraft, civil aviation and emergency services helicopters. It added that people were also concerned about noise, privacy and the possibility of low-level flights causing accidental injury.

U-space: EASA’s term for unmanned air traffic

The term “U-space” has been adopted to describe the management of unmanned aircraft traffic to ensure the safe interaction with other entities using the same space in any location, not just urban areas.

Patrick Ky, Executive Director of EASA said: “We are already starting to see an increasing number of complex flights undertaken by drones in various experiments across the globe. Also, as everyone is aware, many companies have commercial ambitions to use drones for deliveries or, looking further ahead, to offer services such as air taxis.”

“This opinion proposes a regulatory framework that will allow such services to co-exist with all the other activities in our urban environments. The aim is to ensure safe operations, while also creating the basis for a competitive U-space services market, and establishing a level of environmental protection, security and privacy that is acceptable to the public.”

Framework is basis for future legislation

The framework has been presented to the European Commission as a basis for future legislation, lays down the first building block for the establishment of the U-space in Europe. The initial scope is low level airspace, densely-populated urban airspace and locations close to an airport, with no attempt made to cover the airspace in other areas. EASA expects to expand the scope as the market develops and experience is gained.

One example of the measures proposed is a Common Information Service for exchange of essential information. This would offer U-space service providers, air navigation service providers and other participants in the U-space airspace access to the same traffic data and airspace restrictions. This will help drone operators to plan and execute their flights safely, knowing exactly where and when their drone is permitted to fly.

Together with the opinion, EASA published a first set of draft content of acceptable means of compliance (AMC) and guidance material (GM) to support drone operators and EU member states in complying with the new rules. The final AMC & GM will be published by EASA once the European Commission has adopted the regulation and once the necessary consultation with stakeholders has been completed.