On June 16th, the European Commission issued a press release announcing that the Single European Sky Air Traffic joint undertaking (SESAR) has released its blueprint to make drone use in low-level airspace safe, secure and environmentally friendly. It is designed to open the doors to the development of a strong and dynamic EU drone services market across Europe as a whole.

We’ve talked about the striking similarities between the challenges faced by the FAA here in the United States and the challenges of the regulators in Europe. The inevitable establishment of an international set of rules to guide responsible drone use is something we’re following closely, and with the opening of Commercial UAV Expo Europe today, there will be plenty of opportunity to discuss this recent announcement by the EU Commission.

The "U-Space" initiative covers altitudes of up to 150 meters (about 400 ft) and will lay the foundation for the development of a stronger and hopefully more dynamic EU commercial drone market. Registration of drones and drone operators as well as their e-identification and mandatory geo-fencing is expected to be fully implemented by 2019.

In principle “U-Space” will establish rules to ensure that safety at low altitude levels will be just as good as that for traditional manned aviation. The concept is to develop a system similar to that of ATM for manned aviation. The system will provide information for highly automated or autonomous drones to fly safely and avoid obstacles or collisions.

EU Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, said: "Drones mean innovation, new services for citizens, new business models and a huge potential for economic growth. We need the EU to be in the driving seat and have a safe drone services market up and running by 2019. The EU needs to take a leading role worldwide in developing the right framework for this market to flourish, by unleashing the benefits for key economic sectors."

This initiative announced on June 16th is part of an ambitious agenda by the EU Commission to deliver on its Aviation Strategy and unleash the full economic potential of drones. Implementation of this strategy will require an effective legislative framework that can promote European leadership and competitiveness, while addressing a number of legitimate concerns, the first of which is safety. SESAR will also finance a series of private drone initiatives basically focusing on integration of manned and unmanned vehicles into the aviation system over European skies.

SESAR was originally created by the European commission in 2007 with a mandate to develop the new generation European Air Traffic Management (ATM) system. SESAR coordinates and concentrates all EU Research and Development in ATM, bringing together over 3,000 experts from Europe and the World to complete the task.

Legislators in the United States should follow closely these developments in Europe as the two regulating agencies move in parallel to allow industry to flourish while guaranteeing safety of the flying public. The Europeans are in a race to establish clear rules so the skies over Europe are safe but also to ensure that the European drone industry receives an official push and a clear advantage over its rivals across the Atlantic.

Initiatives like “U-Space” not only benefit the safety of UAV technology but also give the industry a clear set of rules that would surely encourage innovation and new product development across Europe. How that can impact the rest of the world is something we’ll all need to be watching.