European aviation regulators are working on legislation that would guide the use of drones in the European aerospace.
Driven by the increasing number of reports of near-miss situations between passenger aircraft and various types of small UAVs all over Europe, the European Commission has entrusted its aviation arm with coming up with proposals to tackle the issue.
No-drone zones, software to block flights into sensitive areas and stricter registration rules are among the solutions considered.
The use of civilian drones for various purposes is on the rise. The technology is being used for crop surveillance, monitoring of natural disasters, photography, as well as by many hobbyists flying drones just for fun. The hobbyists are especially a headache for the aviation community, as they are frequently completely unaware of safety rules guiding the use of airspace.
Last month, the UK's Civil Aviation Authority reported there have been seven incidents in less than a year of drones flying too near to landing or departing planes.
"The problem is that encounters with drones usually take place during the most critical phases of a flight, such as during take-off or landing, when a drone strike could have potentially devastating consequences," said Philip von Schoeppenthau, Secretary General of the European Cockpit Association.
Schoeppenthau told Reuters that drones had the potential to be more dangerous to an aircraft than a bird strike.
"While aircraft engines have been tested against bird strikes, there is no data yet on engine resistance, for example, against a four or five kilo drone being sucked into an engine," Schoeppenthau said.
To buy and fly a drone is incredibly easy. The cheapest models can be ordered for as little as £16 from the internet and operators don’t need any licenses or training.
Pilots' associations and others have called for drones to be fitted with geo-fencing technology, which uses GPS software to stop them straying into certain areas, along with height and distance limits. They also call for registration of drones.
"We need a requirement for registration. That would allow us to identify those abusing the rules and stop them from flying," Klaus-Dieter Scheurle, head of the DFS German air traffic authority, told Reuters in an interview.
Many cities have no-fly areas for drones already. In much of Berlin, for example, operators need a licence to fly higher than 30 metres. Scheurle said the DFS awarded 125 permits for people seeking to fly drones on the city's disused Tempelhof airfield on one sunny day, but estimates around eight times as many were actually flying.
Such regulation has not stopped people from sending drones up wherever they like. Just this year, police have investigated drones over restricted areas in France and, across the Atlantic, over the White House.