European regulator proposes hack protection, geo-awareness for drones

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Europe’s aviation safety authority has proposed anti-hacking measures and geo-awareness technology for small drones to avoid collisions with aircraft or people, taking an important step toward Europe-wide regulation.

The reworked proposal published by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on Thursday, which will be the basis for the European Commission to adopt concrete rules later in the year, includes requirements for drones to be remotely identifiable and to recognize when they stray into banned areas.

With demand booming, both for hobby and commercial use, European regulators have been looking for ways to ensure drones can be safely operated, while allowing the industry to grow.

Risks posed by the increasing use of drones were highlighted in October when a drone hit an aircraft landing at a Canadian airport, and there have been several near-misses between drones and passenger planes in Europe.

EASA confirmed proposals for product legislation using the CE standard and for “dos and don‘ts” notices to be in all product boxes.

To take into account that the risks of flying drones over a city center are very different from flying over the open sea, for instance, it said that only smaller drones weighing less than 900 grams (2 lb) may be flown over people, while bigger ones must either maintain a safe distance or stay far away.

It also now proposed that small drones, such as those used for aerial photography, be equipped with geo-awareness, meaning a function that warns the operator when the craft enters a restricted air space, such as an airport.

That replaces a previous proposal for geo-fencing, which would actively prevent drones from straying into banned areas.

Drones weighing more than 900 grammes should be equipped with technology to prevent hackers from gaining control of the crafts.

EASA also said that drones and their operators, as well as where they took off, should be remotely identifiable, based on unique serial numbers and registration data.

But it simplified its proposed rules on registration, addressing the concerns of some EU member states. It said the operators of drones – excluding very small ones weighing less than 250 grammes – should register themselves rather than filling out separate paperwork for each new craft.

Currently, the regulation of drones in Europe varies country to country, but that can now change thanks to a reform of EASA approved at the end of last year.

Drone makers and pilots have pressed for European rules to be endorsed, saying it is essential a new regulatory framework for drones be put in place as soon as possible.

Makers of commercial drones include China’s DJI and France’s Parrot.

Reporting by Maria Sheahan; editing by Mark Heinrich