Do we still need stricter regulations on drones or smarter ones?

The use of drones - like cars, commercial aircraft or marine vehicles - is regulated by specialist bodies in order to ensure the safety of the public and those who work within each industry. In the UK, drones are regulated by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), the same organisation that regulates all British airspace. In 2018, the way that these drones are regulated continues to be an important topic – one that could transform the sector, driving it forward and safeguarding its success.

Fights, fines and felonies

In the UK and across the world, headlines reveal the need for regulation to be addressed on a global scale. Aerial photography company SkyPan International has recently settled allegations by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) after it flew drones over New York and Chicago in 2012 and 2014 while taking photographs for clients, without the governing body’s authorisation. Also in America, a man was arrested after reportedly flying a drone too close to a helicopter, potentially hindering a rescue mission. SkyPan International is not the only organisation to lose money due to its drone use, with the FAA revealing a document listing every pilot it has ever fined – the results of which appear inconsistent and unclear. Elsewhere, the Dutch Airline Pilots Association has also called for tighter drone regulations, encouraging drone manufacturers to develop geofencing and flight disabling tools in order to widen the airspace gap between commercial aircraft and drones.

The regulatory ‘tipping point’

These events overseas are also apparent in the UK, with 13 reports of ‘near misses’ reported in London in 2016. Due to this influx of reported incidents and other hazardous events involving drones, the Department for Transport, Ministry of Defence and Sciencewise have commissioned TNS BMRB to conduct a ‘public dialogue’ into the public’s attitudes to drone use in the UK. While many are concerned that regulations may change to limit drone usage even further as a result of these discussions, there is also great potential for them to adapt and reflect how drones are really being used and the effect they are having on the public. As drones have been advancing much quicker than the processes that control their usage, this concentrated discussion come at a crucial time as the sector reaches a ‘tipping point’.

Alongside this public dialogue into drone usage in the UK, the government continues to debate drone regulation in the House of Lords. Already, there have been calls to prohibit drones from flying near airports to eliminate any possibility of potential collision. However, is such a move simply tightening restrictions without considering the limitations it could bring to the advancement of the sector?

When used responsibly, drones have potential to transform many areas and applications that are integral to human civilisation, ranging from rescue missions to aiding conservation efforts to even supporting the agriculture industry. With the uses so diverse and complex, modern drone regulations should reflect this, making rules that are smart, supporting the sector rather that strict, based on fear.

Ultimately, cultivating effective drone regulations that ensure ultimate safety without limiting the possibilities of the technology is a difficult task – yet doing so is vital.

Do you agree? How do you think drone regulations should change? Do you think that stricter rules are the only option?