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PUBLICATIONS, Structural and Cohesion Policies

Civil drones in the EU

Written by Alessandra Di Tella and Roy Hirsh
Civil drones in the EU

©Stéphane Masclaux / Fotolia

The civilian use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), often referred as small drones, is expanding rapidly and significantly. They can offer various advantages , not only in terms of potential economic savings but also environmental benefits – less fuel consumption, fewer CO2 emissions, and reduced noise. The wide array of civilian use s of RPAS currently includes environmental, agricultural and fishery operations, disaster response, border control, and many other activities. In order to address the currently fragmented regulatory framework, and also considering the huge potential that the RPAS market might represent for European industry and the aviation sector, in the past years the European Commission has initiated discussions on this topic, by adopting in 2012 the Working Paper Towards a European Strategy for the development of Civil Applications of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) , and establishing a European RPAS Steering Group. Building on its Roadmap for the Integration of Civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems , in April 2014 the European Commission adopted the Communication A new era for aviation: Opening the aviation market to the civil use of remotely piloted aircraft systems in a safe and sustainable manner , presenting its strategy on the future regulation of RPAS in the EU. Furthermore, the European aviation community recently gathered in Riga for The Future of Flying Conference on remotely piloted aircraft systems and adopted a declaration on the general principles to guide the regulatory framework in Europe. As Commissioner Bulc confirmed, a basic regulatory framework should be put in place as from this year, ensuring safety in all circumstances both on air and on the ground as well as facilitating well-informed investment decisions for the private sector

This dossier gathers recent documents and sources on the developments of civilian and commercial use of drones in the EU, with a specific focus on challenges for privacy and security protection as well as an overview of national legislation currently in place.

For resources and documents on the use of drones for security and defence purposes, see also the EPRS Keysource: Use of drones: an international debate , May 2013.


Rules on drones by end-2015 / Europolitics, March 2015

Drones: Avoiding rules that kill industry / Europolitics, March 2015

Sky’s the limit for civil drones / Maria Sheahan, Reuters, June 2013


Drone infographics: A look into the aviation of the future / European Commission, March 2015

Civilian Use of Drones in the EU / House of Lords, 2015
This very comprehensive report draw by the European Union Committee of the House of Lords scrutinises recent European Commission initiatives on RPAS.The related report on evidence on the use of civilian use of drones in the EU presents extensive views from the industry sector and stakeholders.

DRONES: Commercial Drones Are Becoming A Reality, With Huge Impacts For Many Industries / Business Insider, September 2014
The report looks at commercial and military drone market to estimate potential growth of the sector as well as which industries are most likely to see drones become part of their business model in the next few years. The full report is accessible upon free subscription to the website.

Drones: Engaging in debate and accountability / Ulrich Karock, Quick Policy Insight, European Parliament, 2013
This briefing note outlines the past, present and future of the use of remotely piloted air systems (RPAS) and presents new opportunities for their use in science, agriculture, environmental protection, goods transport and border security.

Stakeholder views

EU Institutions’ views

European Commission

COS-RPAS-2014-2-03: Facilitating access to regulation for light Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) / 2014
This Call for Proposal aims at developing a web portal, which will facilitate access to relevant regulations, requirements and procedures for supporting Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), start-ups and entrepreneurs operating or wishing to operate light Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) in Europe.

Remotely Piloted Aviation Systems (RPAS) – Frequently Asked Questions / DG MOVE, 2014

European Parliament

Parliamentary question on Traffic regulation for civilian and commercial flying drones , Ilhan Kyuchyuk (ALDE) January 2015

Parliamentary question on EU funding of drones research for civilian and military use , Ilhan Kyuchyuk (ALDE) January 2015

Parliamentary question on Overflights of nuclear power plants by drones , Claude Turmes (Verts/ALE) , Michèle Rivasi (Verts/ALE) December 2014

Parliamentary question on Frontex drones , Steven Woolfe (EFDD), November 2014

Parliamentary question on Construction of an airport for drones (RPA) in the Doñana National Park , Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea (ALDE) November 2014

Parliamentary question on Harmonisation of the regulations governing the use of civil drones , Marc Tarabella (S&D), October 2014

Council of the European Union

Press release – 3335th TRANSPORT, TELECOMMUNICATIONS and ENERGY Council meeting – Luxembourg, 8 October 2014
Press release with highlights of the policy debate held. In the course of the debate, ministers expressed their agreement with the objective of gradual and progressive integration of civil drones into normal airspace, stressing the need to focus on safety in the first place.

European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)

Drones: Risk-based regulatory approach / March 2015
According to the agency’s executive director, the agency makes a distinction between three categories of drones and is working on regulations based on risks connected with their use. For the smallest drones, generally operated by non-professionals, the idea is not to regulate but “to ensure that they operate in an environment where they do not do any damage if they crash,” said Ky. In other words, this means banning flights over public places. It will be primarily up to national authorities to ensure that this prohibition is respected, even if technological means could be used to prevent them from exceeding a certain flight range.

International organisations’ views

RPAS: The big picture / Eurocontrol
This document states that: “The overall approach towards integration is that RPAS will have to fit into the ATM system and not that the ATM system needs to significantly adapt to enable the safe integration of RPAS. RPAS will have to prove to be as safe as current manned operations, or safer. RPAS behaviour in operations will also have to be equivalent to manned aviation, in particular for the air traffic control (ATC), as it will not be possible for the ATC to effectively handle many different types of RPAS with different contingency procedures.”

Privacy and security aspects

Privacy, data protection and ethical risks in civil RPAS operations / Trilateral Research & Consulting, LLP; Vrije Universiteit Brussel, November 2014
This study prepared for the European Commission analyses the efficiency of the existing regulatory framework to ensure safety of RPAS operations, and makes recommendations for possible improvements. Executive summary for the industry is also available here

Third-Party Liability and Insurance Requirements of RPAS / Steer Davies Gleave, November 2014
This study prepared for the European Commission investigated the current regulatory framework and insurance market, in order to assess their efficiency to ensure an effective compensation of victims in case of an accident. It concludes that there is no immediate need to adapt national liability regimes or the EU insurance regulation (Regulation 765/2004 applies to professional use of RPAS). However, it identified a need to raise awareness about existing regulations and support the development of an appropriate insurance offer.

Workshop on “The civil use of drones, a challenge to privacy?” / European Commission, May 2014
The documents of the workshop focus, inter alia, on the following points: the potential privacy, data protection and ethical impacts when RPAS are used for civil applications by governments´; potential privacy, data protection and ethical impacts when RPAS are used for commercial purposes; solutions are already being developed by the RPAS industry to address privacy and data protection; how Data Protection Authorities may work with the RPAS sector; how Civil Aviation Authorities may assist the RPAS sector in addressing privacy and data protection issues.
This workshop was completed by a 2nd study workshop that took place in September 2014.

EDPS opinion on drones / European Data Protection Supervisor, 2014
EDPS opinion on the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on “A new era for aviation – Opening the aviation market to the civil use of remotely piloted aircraft systems in a safe and sustainable manner”.

Privacy Law Implications of the Use of Drones for Security and Justice Purposes /W. Gregory Voss Toulouse Business School, Published in International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry, 23 p
With the advent of new technologies, new means of surveillance and data collection have appeared on the radar. Drones are among the latest to be considered for domestic security purposes, both in the EU and the USA. After surveying some examples of the non-warfare use of drone for security and criminal justice purposes, this article analyses applicable privacy and data protection legislation and constitutional guarantees, on both sides of the Atlantic. This study extends to the application to drone-generated data of, inter alia, the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, Council of Europe instruments, and the EU Data Protection Framework.

National frameworks


Operation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems


Le ministre flamand Ben Weyts appelle à une législation fédérale sur les drones /BELGA news, December 2014

According to the Belgian Unmanned Aircraft Systems association , “There are multiple initiatives that will foresee a legislation for this sector. In Belgium they also work on a judicial framework, a Royal Decree. As for now, they foresee the Royal Decree in the middle of 2015. This Royal Decree must be compatible with manned aviation and foreign unmanned aviation legislations in order to give the Belgian industry the same possibilities abroad”.


The section Drones (aéronefs télépilotés) maintained by the Ministère de l’Ecologie, du Développement durable et de l’Energie provides all the relevant information about use of civil drones in France. An informal English translation of the legislation is available at English translation of French RPAS regulation .


Kurzinformation über die Nutzung von unbemannten Luftfahrtsystemen / Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur, 2014 (German only)
Document describing the framework applicable in Germany.

Article: Civilian drones and the legal issues surrounding their use , February 2014
“The days when drones were the reserve of hobbyists, technology fans and the military are long gone. Following an amendment to the German Aviation Act, civil drones are now recognised as aircraft. But what are the legal issues surrounding the use of civil drones?”


Operation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems in Irish Airspace
This document details the IAA policy to be applied when assessing an application by an Operator to operate any Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) within the territorial confines and airspace of the State.


The section Sistemi Aeromobili a Pilotaggio Remoto (SAPR) maintained by the National Aviation Authority gathers all the relevant information (most information in Italian only).

Legal framework: Regolamento “Mezzi Aerei a Pilotaggio Remoto” , 2013 (entered into force on 30 Aprile 2014), English Courtesy translation – Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles Regulation


Informatiebulletin lichte onbemande luchtvaartuigen UAS – unmanned aircraft systems – Remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) in The Netherlands, January 2015


Nuevo marco regulatorio temporal para las operaciones con drones , July 2014 (Spanish only)
This webpage maintained by the Spanish aviation Authority describes the main points of the temporary regulatory framework.


The Swedish Transport Agency´s regulations on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) / The Swedish Transport Agency´s Statute book, 2009


Civilian Drones – POST Note, House of Commons, October 2014
“Civilian use of unmanned aircraft (UA) is increasing rapidly as the technology improves and becomes more affordable. The UK has technical expertise in this area and is also at the forefront of national and international regulatory discussions. This briefing provides an overview of current and future applications, and opportunities and barriers for civilian use”.

Unmanned Aircraft and Aircraft Systems /Civil Aviation Authority
In January 2010 the CAA introduced new regulations that require operators of small unmanned aircraft used for aerial work purposes and those equipped for data acquisition and/or surveillance to obtain permission from the CAA before commencing a flight within a congested area or in proximity to people or property.

EU programmes and projects

List of EU funded projects in UAVs technologies applied to transport field from Transport Research and Innovation Portal (TRIP).


4 thoughts on “Civil drones in the EU

  1. This is an intersting new area of law, and lots of countries seem to be puting togther plans of action pretty quick, we havn’t had any really bad accidents yet, but all this talk of drones delivering items should be put to rest, its a bad idea and dangerous.


    Posted by chopper | June 20, 2015, 19:17


  1. Pingback: Keysources – an information resource for MEPs | European Parliamentary Research Service - August 3, 2015

  2. Pingback: Honey, is that a drone outside our bathroom window? | European American Chamber of Commerce New York [EACCNY] | Your Partner for Transtalantic Business Ressources - July 31, 2015

  3. Pingback: What if your shopping was delivered by drones? | European Parliamentary Research Service - May 27, 2015

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The content of all documents (and articles) contained in this blog is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. It is addressed to the Members and staff of the EP for their parliamentary work. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorised, provided the source is acknowledged and the European Parliament is given prior notice and sent a copy. Copyright © European Union, 2014. All rights reserved

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