Unmanned aircrafts are increasingly used in the civil sector, including agriculture. Due to their low-cost, lightweight drones play a pivotal role in the precision agriculture. In this context, drones can provide a high-level resolution field imagery, spatial maps of the water availability, but also data on the crop moisture levels and yield potential. In return, this data allows farmers to make better informed decisions related to irrigation, fertilization and the use of pesticides.
For the time being, the uptake of drones in the agriculture sector is hampered by the geographic fragmentation of the safety rules for the lightweight unmanned aircrafts (<150 kg). These rules are still in the competence of the EU Member States, which regulate them differently.
To circumvent the current situation, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has been tasked with drafting a proposal of the regulation establishing a harmonized framework for the safe use of drones in Europe. The draft proposal, Notice of Proposed Amendment, will feed into the revised version of the Regulation (EC) No 216/2008 on the common rules of the civil aviation.
Under the proposed draft, most of the drones currently used in agriculture (<25 kg) would be allowed to fly up to 120 meters. In addition, their pilots would need to complete an online tutorial and be at least 16 years old. Furthermore, the registration of the operators of the drones to the competent national authorities would be mandatory. Should the proposal be adopted in its current form, the extended harmonization would bring down the costs of the agricultural drones in Europe, while at the same time facilitating the cross-border farming.
Would you like to contribute to the drone-rich future of agriculture in Europe? All interested stakeholders are kindly invited to submit their comments to the EASA in the open public consultation by 15 September 2017. The EASA is expected to submit the final draft of the proposal to the European Commission by the end of 2017.