Conflicting visions around technology integration: A look at recent EU drone policies

Journal article

Nawaz, Samar Abbas (2023) Conflicting visions around technology integration: A look at recent EU drone policies, Contemporary European Politics 1 (2).

Read the article here (Open Access)

For many years, the European Commission (EC) has been envisioning integration of drones into civilian airspace. This vision entails scalable drone operations in the European civil airspace for commercial and private purposes such as inspection, urban mobility, logistics and so forth. In such regard, one finds various European declarations, strategies and regulations around civilian drones. Most recently, in late 2022, the EC adopted the ‘Drone Strategy 2.0 for a Smart and Sustainable Unmanned Aircraft Eco-System in Europe’ (Drone Strategy) with an aim to create a drone ecosystem for sustainable future mobility. Around half a year later, the European Union (EU) Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) passed the ‘EASA AI Roadmap 2.0 Human-Centric Approach to AI in Aviation’ (AI Roadmap) outlining future challenges and opportunities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the European aviation sector, including civilian drones. Common in both instruments is a time-bound vision: whereas the Drone Strategy envisions various facets of drone normalization to manifest in 2030, the AI Roadmap produces a timeline (2019–2050+) reflecting the planned standardization of AI systems and their approvals. Another common feature is AI because the prevailing state of drone technology shows a growing reliance on AI systems. It thus becomes imperative to read them in conjunction, as drone normalization is dependent on the regulatory approvals of such systems. Such political and legal analysis, as conducted in this article, shows a glaring inconsistency between the two visions. The inconsistency in different policies on the same point puts into question the institutional coherence within the EU, an idea that refers to a situation where ‘a single policy area is served by two set of actors and their different procedures’ (Marangoni & Raube, 2014, p. 475). As discussed in the succeeding section, drones form part of various European policy agendas, such as sustainability, green transition, security and defence, and urban mobility. Therefore, the alignment of visions around its integration ought to be well-tuned. A lack of consistency in such regard raises questions around political harmony amongst different institutions and their priorities, which may hinder different political agendas.

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