13 March 2024

The EU’s leadership in shaping the drone sector

Drones represent a significant technological breakthrough that brings both exciting opportunities and complex challenges for the European Union. In recent years, we have seen a surge in drone usage across sectors from security to transportation and agriculture. That signals a critical need for the EU to harmonise its drone policies to foster the development of the sector and claim global leadership.

In this blog post, our Associate Partner, General (ret.) Stéphane Abrial examines the EU regulatory framework surrounding drones and brings his insights on the future of drones.

Rapid advancements in drone technology

Over the past decade, drone technology has experienced an exceptional growth. Its current market value stands at approximately €28 billion, and it is projected to skyrocket to an estimated €541 billion by 2030.

One of the most notable innovations are the electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) vehicles, which can bypass ground transportation constraints and provide faster delivery options for e.g., goods and healthcare services. This includes the delivery of organs for transplants and emergency services, as well as enhancing access to remote locations. Given the rapid advancement in that sector, we can only expect even more innovative applications of drones in the near future. For example, “flying taxis” are projected to be a major feature of mobility at the Paris Olympic Games in summer 2024.

The strategic importance of drones for the EU

At the heart of Europe’s strategic interests, drones will profoundly transform various fields of the economy and society ranging from emergency services to surveillance. The European Drone Strategy 2.0 (2022) recognised drones as a key driver of innovation and economic growth. 

By investing in drone technology, the EU aims to boost its competitive edge in the global market, fostering advancements in areas like autonomous driving, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, while ensuring the EU’s technological leadership and strategic independence. Moreover, the development of drones aligns with the EU’s sustainability and smart mobility goals, offering greener alternatives to traditional transportation methods.

In the military domain, EU Member States have been late starters in the development and use of drones. However, this situation is rapidly changing across the entire spectrum, with renewed attention on innovation and acquisition, from microdrones to high-altitude, long-endurance systems. This shift is absolutely necessary in light of how drones have become game changers in the Ukraine conflict.

The EU’s ambitious path to drone technology leadership

On the path to global leadership, the EU aims to foster a supportive ecosystem for innovation and investment, while addressing concerns about privacy and liability.

The European Drone Strategy 2.0 is intended to overcome obstacles related to public acceptance and paves the way for sustainable growth and leadership in the global drone market. In 2023, the European Commission set new rules for countering potential threats posed by drones, a crucial step motivated by the rapid technological advancements and the increasing uncontrolled use of drones in civilian spaces.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is also working towards establishing unified rules for all drone types and ensuring their safe integration into European airspace. Moreover, the European Commission recently established a task force to tackle challenges faced by emerging mobility technologies, including drones and eVTOL.

Emerging trends and regulatory developments

Looking ahead, we can anticipate a dynamic shift in the EU’s drone regulatory framework. As the drone market continues to grow, the EU has the opportunity to lead the way by shaping the future of drone technology globally. A challenge will be to articulate a balanced regulatory framework. One that addresses concerns about safety, privacy, and liability, but that also boosts innovation and investment – both public and private – to conquer the next drone technological frontier.

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13 March 2024
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