The recently published UAV report, “Exploring Commercial Drone Opportunities and Regulation Across Europe in 2017”, describes in great detail the efforts of the different industries to deploy and take advantage of this amazing cost-reducing technology in Europe’s fragmented regulatory environment. Apart from the obvious challenges that every industry worldwide is facing as they deploy UAVs in their daily activities, Europe presents a unique problem in the sense that there’s a “European” civil aviation authority (EASA) but there are 28 countries with 28 distinct legislations and drastically different political realities.
But how different is that reality from the USA reality?
The Constitution of the United States regulates the relationship between the states in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 (also known as the “Commerce Clause”) but in 1787 there were no aircrafts, so the generalization of authority of Federal Agencies is made based on a common currency and immigration matters.
There are 50 states, 3,144 counties and 19,429 cities in the USA (The US Geological Survey recognizes 35,000 but most are under 5,000 people). Most of these geographical entities have local governments such as state house and senate and city councils that take jurisdictional issues very seriously. Some are fiercely independent and don’t welcome federal interference in their local affairs.
At the end of 2015, a few months before the passing of Part 107, over 20 states and some major cities like Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles had approved drone legislation placing tough restrictions on the use of drones over populated areas. The FAA had to individually reach out to officials in these local governments and clarify the fact that matters that involve the country’s airspace belong solely on the shoulders of the FAA. This intervention from the Federal government in local affairs is no different than EASA telling a specific country how to handle the use of drones over their airspace.
There are some considerable differences between how the FAA and EASA can approach drone regulation though, and much of it stems from the ability of each organization to enforce regulation. The big difference is the FAA’s mandate over the airspace in USA is a lot stronger and clearer than EASA. Regardless of this regulatory reality, the European Agency is working on a set of general regulations in order to create a homogeneous set of rules that will allow companies to deploy their solutions uniformly throughout the Union.
These regulations were first proposed in mid 2015 and a comprehensive plan for citizen participation and input was implemented. In December 2016, EASA published the Terms of Reference for the final ruling. This publication is just the first step in a complex process that is set to play out in full by 2019.
All this regulatory activity means that UAV advocates across the world are all pushing hard for a clear set of rules under which deploying these live saving and cost cutter technologies is safe, expeditious and transparent. Nonetheless, the celerity by which the FAA has confronted the challenges of airspace integration is a welcome relief to our industry and an example to the rest of the world.