By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Drone owners in Europe will have to register their devices if "dangerous" and aircraft makers ensure that black box recordings can be downloaded in real-time if a plane is in distress under a sweeping reform of Europe's aviation safety agency.
European Union lawmakers and member states reached a tentative deal early on Thursday on a long-awaited reform of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which includes Europe's first ever rules on drones.
Under the agreement, drones which can cause significant harm to people either by crashing into them or presenting risks to privacy, security or the environment, will have to be registered.
"Dangerous" drones will be defined as having a kinetic energy of over 80 joules based on their mass and maximum speed. The European Parliament had pushed for a registration threshold of 250 grammes but EU governments resisted.
The rules will apply to all drones, including ones sold in shops for private use.
"The drone industry is soaring and has potential uses in agriculture, delivery, mapping, building maintenance. To ensure these activities develop in full security, a European regulatory framework will prevail," said Karima Delli, chair of the European Parliament's Transport Committee.
Risks posed by the increasing use of drones were highlighted in October when a drone hit an aircraft landing at a Canadian airport and there have been several near-misses between drones and passenger planes in Europe.
EU member states and the Parliament had been bogged down in negotiations for a year, with disagreements ranging from drone registration limits to how much EASA should be bound by international CO2 standards to whether overflights should be guaranteed when air traffic controllers are on strike.
Thursday's agreement, which was reached around 0545 CET (0445 GMT) after 10 hours of negotiations, will need to be confirmed by both the Parliament and national governments.
Currently, drone rules vary from country to country in Europe.
Under the deal, recordings of cockpit conversations in planes will need to be downloaded to the ground in real-time when an aircraft is in distress.
The Parliament had pushed for the provision to avoid a repeat of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 which vanished three years ago in the southern Indian Ocean with 239 people aboard.
The exact criteria under which aircraft will have to be equipped with black boxes whose recordings can be downloaded in real-time will be decided by the European Commission and member states at a later stage, a Parliament source said.
The deal also ensures that EASA will not be able to go beyond international standards agreed at the United Nations aviation agency on pollutants and CO2 emissions, something with environmental campaigners and the Parliament had pushed for.
"In the face of this missed opportunity, the European Parliament is ready and waiting for an ambitious plan for CO2 emissions reductions from transport," Delli said.
(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Adrian Croft)