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The European Commission in Drone Community: a New Cooperation Area in the Making

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EU-Drones (The European Commission in Drone Community: a New Cooperation Area in the Making)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2019-03-31

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), commonly known as drones, are atypical equipment in traditional aviation because of their wide range of variety and applications. While they have been used by the military since decades, the civil use of RPAS has gained in importance over the last years, due to their extensive commercialisation that has made them accessible for leisure, commercial and professional activities. As RPAS are evolving technologies, their full potential is not yet known but developing. However, their utilisation has quickly raised societal concerns about security, safety, privacy, data protection, insurance, liability, environmental issues which challenge the public acceptance for their growing and permanent integration in the airspace.
Hence, the main objective of this research was to examine how public authorities are shaping the regulatory framework, the production and the use of drones, with a special focus on the involved actors’ diverging interests. As the operation of drones raises cross-border issues and market access questions, the project was interested in evaluating the situation in Europe where multiple authorities overlap. The “EU-Drones” project was especially interested in how the European Union had tackled them and developed a policy framework for drones, especially through the leadership of the European Commission.
The research aimed at identifying the configuration of relations and at analysing the power relationships between European, national and international, public and private, civil and military actors who are part of the “drone community”. It analysed their tools, interests and means in the policy-process towards a European drone policy framework. Based in Brussels from 2017 to 2019, the researcher closely followed the evolution of the policy-making process by meeting the actors involved in the discussions and assessing the challenges from the early beginning of the European regulatory framework for drones until its adoption.
The “EU-Drones” project’s findings explain how the European Commission used its leadership capacity to take actions in the drone community with a clear impact on the dynamics and constituent parts of this community. Building on its competencies in the market, regulatory and research domains, the Commission pushed the European integration in a new sector and had a determinant impact on this emerging and competitive industry.
Over the two-year fellowship, the researcher has collected data through desk-based research, extensive fieldwork, cooperation in joint academic research networks on drones and emerging technologies as well as participation in a series of events organised by the stakeholders of the drone community. The findings of the research project have been presented in various academic conferences and workshops and published in various policy and research papers, chapters as well as articles in peer-review journals (forthcoming). The complexity of drone developments and the wider implications of these emerging technologies have been taken up in an international collaborative research group currently working for the main output of a comprehensive edited volume.
The researcher has organised an international conference on “The Drone Age: Issues, Actors and Perspectives” in Brussels in February 2019 (see the picture) open to the public to reach as much audience as possible. This timely conference invited academics and stakeholders to present their work and discuss their views on drone-related EU initiatives but also to provide a comprehensive analysis of the upcoming “Drone Age” in all its different aspects (legal, ethical, political, economic and technological), for a better understanding of all its implications. In addition, to reach out to the public, a website of the EU-Drones project has been created and with regular updates on the project’s activities. The researcher gave several lectures to different audiences, met journalists for press discussions, and contributed shorter pieces to open-access online platforms discussing different societal implications of this emerging technology in the European governance.
Chantal Lavallée in an international academic conference (EISA2017)
Conference "The Drone Age: Issues, Actors and Perspectives" on 22 February 2019 at the IES, Brussels