Once technical requirements are defined, however, “the member states will be asked to confirm their intention to participate in this project,” the aide said.
Earlier in 2013, defense contractors in France, Germany and Italy called on European governments to fund development of a pan-European unmanned aerial vehicle that would give EU nations a chance to catch up in the area of UAV development. The effort, initiated by Airbus Defense & Space in Germany, France's Dassault Aviation and Italy's Finmeccanica, was a reaction to France's decision in May to purchase up to 16 U.S.-built MQ-9 Reapers to quickly shore up ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) gaps highlighted during the nation's intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali.
Italy and the U.K. already operate Reapers, with France and the Netherlands to follow suit.
Under the auspices of the EDA, in November France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain established a MALE UAV user community to exchange information and best practices. Under a separate EDA initiative, eight European countries—including Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Italy and the U.K.—have pooled €50 million ($68 million) collectively to research integration of UAVs into European airspace.
“This is an investment program for research into how [UAVs] could be entered into non-segregated airspace,” a Commission aide said.
The Council also approved a goal of establishing a regulation for EU-wide UAV certification by 2016, a move that is welcomed by industry.
“Certification of defense equipment is a nightmare in Europe,” one senior European industry official said in Munich on the eve of the summit. “Some 20% of development costs are just for certification.”
He said while the outcome of the European Council summit was likely to prove a disappointment in some ways, the fact that governments are addressing the need for common certification rules by 2016 is promising.
“At least they are working on it,” he said.