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By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union member states on Friday endorsed a deal to reform the bloc's aviation safety agency which also includes its first ever rules on drones, reassuring industry which had feared the whole project could collapse.
EU lawmakers and member states struck a tentative deal on a long-awaited reform of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on Nov. 30, which also includes rules requiring owners of drones to register their devices if "dangerous".
However, several member states subsequently expressed concerns about elements of the compromise, leading Estonia - which holds the rotating EU presidency - to put off a vote definitively endorsing the deal, initially scheduled for Wednesday.
In particular, the requirement that drones having a kinetic energy of over 80 joules based on their mass and maximum speed be registered with authorities concerned member states who feared it was too complicated.
The European Parliament had initially pushed for a registration threshold of 250 grammes, but that too faced opposition from member states.
Estonia gave member states until Friday to further analyse the deal and they eventually endorsed it.
"It is our responsibility to ensure that civil aviation safety rules are adapted to take account of new developments, including the increasing use of drones. With this agreement, we have new rules which meet today's need," Kadri Simson, Estonia's Minister for Economic affairs and Infrastructure, said in a statement after the EASA reform was endorsed.
Both industry and pilots pressed for the deal to be endorsed, saying it was essential a new regulatory framework for drones be put in place as soon as possible.
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.
(Reporting by Julia Fioretti)