Future Regulation: key points on drone regulation

16th October 2023

In a series of forthcoming articles, lawyers from Blake Morgan will examine how law will keep pace with the latest technological developments – follow us #FutureRegulation. The first in the series looks at drone regulation.

Drone regulation

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, are playing an increasingly important role in societies at war and peace. Indeed, some would say their role is transformative, and like many innovations, they are affording ever greater access to advanced technological capabilities at lower cost.

Take Ukraine, a nation with a much smaller manned air force than Russia. However, drones have enabled them to deploy air power to support their ground operations through aerial surveillance at a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft.

Such innovations also enable asymmetrical responses from smaller players and a levelling of the field in the civilian context too – allowing smaller business to project into different markets with enhanced capacities which would have been beyond them even a few years ago.

For example, many of the drones used by Ukraine are supplied by Baykar in Turkey – a new drone super power – which again illustrates how new businesses in emerging economies are wielding increasing power. The Bayraktar TB2, designed by Selçuk Bayraktar, and used extensively by Ukraine, is an example of this.

Baykar’s market value share grew rapidly, showing respectively an 89% increase to an estimated $2.993 billion in 2021; and comprising 5.5% of the $54.35 billion overall market. Its rapid growth in the market highlights both a gap and an opportunity for more tech companies to expand into this space.

On the civil front, Baykar is also developing the Cezeri Flying Car, a renewable urban air transport (UAT) system powered by rechargeable batteries, and an eco-friendly alternative aimed at reducing air pollution. It is expected that the Cezeri Flying Car will play a role in the health sector providing a fast and effective means of emergency transport. It has been designed to facilitate flying with minimum aviation knowledge indicating potential applications in private as well as commercial sectors in the future.

Looking ahead

Drones are already widely being touted as alternatives to ground transport for medical deliveries. However, as with many developments, a key question for future drone regulation is how new technologies for civil uses will be regulated to ensure safety whilst not stifling innovation.

Taking the UK, currently regulation only expressly deals with Visual Line of Sight Operations (VLOS), defined within UK Regulation (EU) 2019/947 as:

a type of UAS operation in which, the remote pilot is able to maintain continuous unaided visual contact with the unmanned aircraft, allowing the remote pilot to control the flight path of the unmanned aircraft in relation to other aircraft, people and obstacles for the purpose of avoiding collisions.’

Drone rules

UK Regulation is based on the risk of the flight – where you fly, proximity to other people, and the size and weight of drone. Key rules include:

  • Never fly more than 120m above the surface
  • Always keep your drone or model aircraft in sight
  • Never fly in an airport’s flight restriction zone unless you have permission
  • If your drone has a camera (unless it is a toy) or weighs 250g or more then you need to personally register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
  • Anyone flying a drone weighing 250g or more needs to pass a test and get a flyer ID from the CAA.

The drone rules are based on risk and divided into three categories: Open (low risk), Specific (heavier drone over urban areas and requires operating approval), and Certified (for large drones which have to meet specific safety certifications along the lines of aircraft).

The rules are enforced by criminal laws – for example the Air Navigation Order (article 241) makes it an offence to ‘recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property’. Breaching the rules outlined above would likely amount to such an offence.

One immediate focus as technology has developed in the UK is drone operations Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). There is a regulatory gap here as BVLOS flights are currently only regulated by ‘exception’ (as in a waiver outside the rules), but this is not sustainable. The CAA is aware that this is not satisfactory and seeking to develop four pillars around which future BVLOS flights can be regulated:

  • Pilot competency (a simpler, more standardised mechanism to demonstrate the competence of pilots when flying BVLOS)
  • Flightworthiness (a formal, nationally recognised mechanism to demonstrate the robustness of their aircraft when applying for an Operational Authorisation)
  • Risk assessment (a more suitable mechanism to assess and mitigate risk)
  • Airspace(safe integration of BVLOS operations into the UK’s airspace using detect and avoid technologies)

Risk assessment

In terms of risk assessment, the UK will develop the Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) in tandem with other national authorities which, as its name suggests, is a more involved and operation/personnel specific concept of risk assessment. Current guidance on risk assessments for drone use can be found in CAP 722A.

UK SORA will be ready for consultation in early 2024. It is likely to focus in particular on how safety issues can be dealt with by way of design (especially detect and avoid systems) complete with development of operator ‘safety cases’ which represent involved and specific assessments of safe systems of work and control measures.  Guidance is available from the CAA and drone operators are well advised to get ahead of the game with their design and safety case preparations to enable them to fully engage in the consultations.

Similarly, in Turkey, there are specific regulations for the operation of drones. The regulatory framework is overseen by Sivil Havacılık Genel Müdürlüğü (SHGM) (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) and drones are categorised based on weight and purpose of use (recreational versus commercial drone operations).

Amongst other things, in Turkey, private or personal drones cannot weigh not more than 8.8 pounds (4 kilograms) and any drones between 500 grams to 4 kilograms are required to be registered with SHGM and have a registration number allocated before flying. For any drones weighing between 500 grams to 4 kilograms, a pilot certificate will also be required. Any commercial drone operators will also need to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate issued by SHGM. In terms of altitude, drones are generally required to fly below 120 metres (400 feet) above the ground level and within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the operator.

It will interesting to see how different jurisdictions deal with the future regulation of drone flights BVLOS in the coming years.

If you have any queries or would like to discuss how the drone regulations may impact your company, please contact one of our experts.

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