In order to effectively integrate drones into national airspace, the establishment of a new regulatory body dedicated to the safe management of these aircraft should be considered, as was the case with the introduction of the UK Civil Aviation Authority in 1972 that led to the monitoring of civil air transport.
The nature of UAV operations below 500ft warrants a separate entity that will allow the industry to flourish.
At present, national aviation authorities govern the use of UAVs but drone industry is now at that stage that better and dedicated governing has to be introduced, akin to the establishment of the CAA as a separate entity to military aviation when the commercial aircraft world started to boom in the late 1960s.
If we’re really going to have UAS flying beyond-visual-line-of-sight, do we have the right organisation to be able to come up with what the regulations should look like? Are the current civil aviation administrations around the world appropriate organisations for that, or should we be looking to something a little bit different that might be able to take it to multiple stakeholders, taking into consideration safety and the local authorities?
There are too many conflicting parties in place at present, which could hinder true adoption of this disruptive technology. An aviation authority may grant permission for an operator to fly a drone over the centre of a large city but this could be vetoed by any number of local authorities.
There is still a lot of transferable skill you would want to take from the current civil aviation administrations but you would need to splice it and mesh it with the local authority, local police, and organisations that think they own pieces of airspace.
We need to come up with a game-changing plan that will really challenge opinion on how things should be done. We need to start changing mindsets to think towards one regulatory body that you can go to for this.
One area in which this technology could gain momentum – and subsequently call for a separate regulatory body – is driverless taxis. Dubai is already looking into this and wants to enforce it, but if it is to proliferate around the world, governing bodies that understands the operation need to be in place.
If you look around the world, technology is already on the shelf right now, and I’m sure the majority of the population will want to see this evolve. We need people to say that we need an authority or regulatory body that can look after this, and we need it in place as soon as possible.
Paul Rigby is CEO of Consortiq and a qualified drone pilot. Before venturing into drone operations, Paul’s 10-year career focused on operations and engineering for NATS. He is also a leading advisor on drone regulation and legislation. He was previously part of the UK Cross-Government RPAS Strategy working group, completed three terms as the elected Legislation Officer for ARPAS-UK and frequently participates in regulatory forums in the USA, Europe and the Middle East. Paul was also a consultant on the AIRSTART project advising on regulatory and legislative issues for pioneering Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations.