Airports Council International (ACI) Europe said today there was "an urgent need" for a European rulebook on drones as usage continues to take off.
In a report released today, the trade body for European airports said the number of drones has seen a vast rise over the last five years, and is expected to increase 10-fold globally from 2015, to almost 68m in 2021.
It wants a European safety rulebook finalised soon to ensure a common approach, and to avoid member states setting up separate rules.
In its report, ACI Europe said "The legislative breakthrough on the EU Aviation Safety Regulation has cleared a major hurdle to progress on drone deployment in Europe opening the path to finalising the rulebook."
Such a guide would need to include a consistent approach regarding requirements for pilots, as well as protected zones around airports, and be easy to understand so ordinary users know what they can and can't do with their "buy-to-fly aircraft".
ACI Europe said there are opportunities for airports and aviation itself regarding drones, but said integration of the tech into controlled airspace will be "a critical component" to reduce the risk that they currently pose in terms of safety at and around airports.
Olivier Jankovec, director general ACI Europe, said:
The airport industry is embracing innovation and we are excited about the potential opportunities that drone technology presents, in particular in relation to infrastructure maintenance and operational efficiency, passenger facilitation and more.
He added: "That said, the safety issues concerning the use of drones in and around airports are increasingly well-documented – underlining the urgent need for an effective regulatory framework on this."
The trade body also emphasises the importance of drone registration, and considering how to integrate drones at airports, which it says is "a complex but feasible endeavour".
ACI Europe said that any rules and regulations adopted must be designed to accommodate the rapid development of drone technology, so should not be too prescriptive. "Future-proofing" rules, though tricky, will be crucial for the successful development of a drone services market in Europe.
Towards the end of last year, the UK government unveiled plans to set new rules for regulating drones, with those flying them having to pass safety tests. A new registry for owners of large drones will also be mandatory.
"Drones have great potential and we want to do everything possible to harness the benefits of this technology as it develops," said aviation minister Baroness Sugg.