The Regulation Game…

red-tapeNo discussion on the UAV industry is complete without a heated discussion on the associated regulations. What we see happening on various forums, Facebook groups, etc is debate around what the best balance of UAV regulations should be.  Everyone has a strong opinions and no one generally is right or wrong.  Where regulations should fall is all dependent on your perspective.   The tricky part that governments face is striking a balance between the two extremes that keeps the industry in check but without stifling it.

The issue of regulation is not limited to the UAV industry.  All industries have their red tape, however it may be the first time for many people that are trying to make the leap from the RC hobby into a UAV business to run into the regulatory road block, and in turn the frustrations that come with it.  Existing business owners will have a much more developed palate for the rules of operation from other endeavors.

Regulations have existed since ancient times so are nothing new to just UAVs.

As defined on Wikipedia, Regulations are:

a legal norm intended to shape conduct that is a byproduct of imperfection…Regulation creates, limits, constrains a right, creates or limits a duty, or allocates a responsibility.

Regulations aren’t about being fair, open, or good for business, they are about managing for the greater good to handle items such as public safety, illegal activity, protecting or limiting special interest groups, and so on.  Regulations create costs as well as benefits and may produce unintended effects.  Efficient regulations are those where total benefits exceed total costs.

When debating where UAV regulations it is important to keep in mind that everyone has an agenda with what they say, be it conscious or subconscious. UAV technology is evolving faster than most in our history, and as such is very disruptive and quickly impacting existing industries and agencies that only a few years ago didn’t even have it on their radar.  Much of what we are seeing now is a reactive approach to getting things under control. Full scale aviation sees it as a threat to business, but often disguises the concern with safety.  The public are quick to jump on the privacy issue despite the fact that existing privacy laws cover most issues.  Some new UAV operators complain that any regulations will kill the industry, when they just want to avoid any restrictions or paper work and make some quick short term cash.

There is no clear roadmap forward.  Various countries are trying to react as quickly as they can but no government moves fast enough to stay ahead of the technology.  New advances come at a shocking pace in the UAV market, quickly outpacing even the newest laws.

For those of us in the industry it will be a rough uncertain time ahead.  Trying to keep an open mind and not getting frustrated will be key to surviving in a sane manner.  Working with agencies to try and develop usable rules is key to developing a healthy industry, otherwise we could all be shut out if the powers that be decide it is more hassle than it is worth. There will be operators that push the limits of the laws and those that take the slow path.  It is the wild west now in the UAV industry.  Many are jumping in to make a quick buck as the next gold rush, others are in it for the long term. Eventually the dust will settle and the serious professional operators will be left.

No laws are perfect, we just need something that is good enough and acceptable by most involved from various view points that can grow and evolve with the industry. And the more we as an industry can work together to self regulate the less restrictions will be forced on us by governments.


  1. There is no doubt that when something radically shifts the paradigm, as multirotor has done to the airspace, that new rules must come into existence to accommodate the scenarios that may just have never ever happened before. We have always known that when the old regs got updated that it would be a process NOT an event, one of trial and error, not of “get it right the first time”. I truly appreciate the attention you are giving to this and the efforts you are putting into helping our community stay on the side of safety and understand the rules of the airspace we are exploring Mark.


  2. No doubt that regulations are a must, and will need to evolve over time. However in my humble opinion TC needs to zoom in on target fast before something dramatic happens and they are forced to lock up everything. Something as simple as allowing drone operators not to report crashes or accidents if the damages are limited to the UAV itself. Seems obvious to me that small drones have a very high probability to end their life dramatically, we need to make sure that if it happens, the chances they cause damage are minimized and we, like the rest of the aerospace industry, have mechanisms to gather the lessons and use them collectively for improvements in both technology and security.


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