There seems to exist a consensus that the drone industry will be one of the fastest growing over the next few decades. Devices that were initially designed mainly for military purposes have quickly evolved into a new area with a plethora of commercial applications. Generating climate data, controlling borders, fire prevention, inspection of pipelines, electrical wires or contaminated environments, monitoring crops, delivery of all kinds of products, aerial photography, 3D mapping… are just but a few of the potential uses of these devices.
Drone commercial start-ups are flourishing throughout the world, partly due to the vast number of potential commercial applications, partly due to the limited capital investment required when compared to other ventures, and partly due to the technological developments in telecommunications and robotics. Of course, the fact that business analysts such as Goldman Sachs predict that there will be a 100 USD billion market opportunity for drones by 2020 (“Drones – Reporting for Work” under http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/technology-driving-innovation/drones/) also helps in attracting investors and developers.
As with other industries that appeared over the last 150 years, initially legislators were overrun by the legal implications and requirements of drones. Most countries are undergoing efforts to address this new phenomenon but are taking a cautious approach: being seen as “aircraft”, traditional concerns such as safety are predominant when issuing regulations for the certification and operation of drones. Just as an example: although the technology for remotely piloting an aircraft is certainly available, as the news about military operations with drones in remote areas shows, most regulators still struggle with allowing commercial drone operations beyond the pilot’s line of sight. This impacts most commercial applications, which need more relaxed flight regulations to really take off.
However, recent events, such as the sighting of unidentified drones in, or close to, take-off and landing zones at Gatwick airport which caused severe disruption of airport operations during two days in December 2018, underpin the tension between safety and flexibility in this area. According to the BBC, armed police were ready to attempt to shoot the drones down in Gatwick, and the government of the United Kingdom is considering implementing military-grade anti-drone equipment at all major UK airports and other critical infrastructure such as power stations and prisons (https://www.bbc.com/news/business-46829615). Of course, the efforts of one single country cannot produce meaningful results to address this new kind of risk, and coordination at a transnational level seems to be the better approach.
The European Union is working on a regulation for drone operations that will harmonize the currently fragmented regulatory framework. It was expected that the new regulation would be adopted by the end of 2018, but the process is proving more complex than initially anticipated. The approach of the European Commission is to have an operation-centric, proportionate, risk and performance-based regulatory framework for all types of unmanned aircraft, as explained on EASA’s dedicated website (https://www.easa.europa.eu/easa-and-you/civil-drones-rpas/drones-regulatory-framework-background). In the USA, the FAA has acknowledged that safety requirements nowadays oblige to make use of “accommodation practices”, but it envisions a future in which drones can operate side-by-side with manned aircraft, occupying the same airspace and using the same air traffic management systems and procedure (https://www.faa.gov/uas/). Other countries are also analysing the issues posed by drone operations to help the industry reach its full potential and thereby produce new jobs and economic growth.
This report wishes to summarise the basic legislation applicable to drone operations in almost thirty countries. Leading practitioners in the jurisdictions featured have answered a number of key questions that attempt to provide a general overview. The report shows the situation as of 30 June 2018. Given the very dynamic environment of this industry, it is to be expected that new legislation will be passed in the short term so as to ease the present restrictions. For this reason, the authors intend to periodically update its contents, although no guarantee can be given in this respect. Specific legal advice should always be sought from experienced local advisers.
On a technical note, for the purposes of this report, and in view of the large number of names given to unmanned aircraft across the world (multicopter, UAS, RPAS, UAV, drones, MAV…), we will refer to any aircraft or air vehicle without a human pilot on board, which flight is controlled either autonomously or under the remote control of a pilot on the ground or in another vehicle, as “UAS”. To the extent that domestic legislation in the countries included in this report make a distinction in respect of the different types of Unmanned Aircraft System “UAS” it has been so indicated.
This publication should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general information purposes only.