Expert Risk Articles

UAS - Regulatory Differences and Challenges

Compared with manned aviation, global regulation of UAS is in its infancy, as evidenced by the numerous organizations and associations lobbying governments for harmonization across geographical boundaries. Standards differ remarkably by jurisdiction. Globally, there are about 800 working groups trying to harmonize the regulatory process. Another challenge is posed by technology advancing faster than the regulatory process.

Regulatory differences and challenges around the world

Governments see the need for adequate regulatory control. In some jurisdictions, complex and comprehensive laws are already in place and certification is a prerequisite for commercial use. Clear distinctions are made between UAS for business use and “model aircraft” for recreational use. Other countries, such as the US and UK, are reviewing broader regulations to supplant guidelines currently in force, with the US (see following section) finalizing comprehensive regulations in 2016.

Restrictions can be limited elsewhere. In most cases, the designation between commercial and recreational UAS use is the key starting point. Other common standards exist such as operators must maintain a visual line of sight (VLOS) at all times and UAS must be under a certain size (usually <55 lbs./25 kg.) and must not be operated in close proximity to airports or large outdoor venues.

Milestone UAS regulations in the US

Effective August 2016, new US rules (FAA Part 107) are set to pave the way for thousands of businesses to fly UAS legally, as operators will have to meet simpler criteria. Previous FAA stipulations required commercial operators to have a pilot’s license, as well as having to apply to the authority for permission. This meant that, as of May 2016, only around 5,000 commercial applicants had been successful; a tiny percentage of UAS owned in the US.

According to the new rules UAS will be able to be flown as long as the pilot is over 16, the UAS is in sight and is not flown above 400ft. The UAS must weigh less than 55lb (25kg) with pilots having to pass an aeronautics safety test. The FAA is also to provide UAS owners with “privacy guidelines”. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in May released best practices that promise to safely integrate large numbers of UAS into the national airspace while guaranteeing personal privacy of people on the ground.[i]

According to FAA chief, Michael Huerta, the FAA wants to ensure that “the drone industry can continue to grow ‘at the speed of Silicon Valley’ without being restrained by ‘the speed of government.’”

“The new regulations are going to open the floodgates on the UAS industry. We are seeing companies and individuals buying UAS at an incredible pace now that there is an easy and attainable path to legal commercial options,” says James Van Meter, an Aviation Practice Leader at AGCS.

The new FAA rules do not apply to recreational users, which account for the majority of UAS owners, although this group is regulated by Section 336 of US Public Law 112-95, which codifies the FAA’s enforcement authority. A recent study by aerospace and defense firm, Aero Kinetics, concluded that toy drones posed a significant threat to manned rotocraft in all phases of flight, including cruise, based upon their typical operating altitudes.[ii]


[i] NTIA “UAS Privacy Best Practices”

[ii] Aero Kinetics – Real Consequences of Toy Drones

UAS World Regulations


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