From the printing press to the atomic bomb, humankind reveals an inclination to innovate first and plan later. It is a simple truth that technology develops faster and further than law. Cars and hi-tech smart phones are everyday examples of technologies that have grown beyond the highways and by-ways built to support them.
Innovators and planners are, by nature, opposites. Innovators tend to defy against society to renew it. Planners, on the other hand try to relate the novel to the normal so as to provide continuity and growth. A brief examination of history of the development of technology shows that technical advances sometimes outstrip the development of legal systems. This often forces the basic principles to be re-examined in light of new developments. Advances in field of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), for example, have created a host of noted legal confusions and debates in recent months.
As at the time of writing this article, a Virgin America pilot reported seeing a quadcopter drone ascend above him while approaching to Dallas Love Field Airport. The news story further reported that there have been several high profile examples of commercial pilots coming in to close contact with UAVs in protected airspace. In absence of planned implementation of rules and regulations, the effects and consequences of such UAVs getting into contact with flights could be seriously catastrophic.
UAV are usually deployed for military and special operation applications, but the use of UAVs has also been growing in other areas such as use by police and law enforcement officials, firefighting, and other security work to maintain public order and peace. Besides serving military and law enforcement application, drones have been developed and used to serve several other purposes such as in rescue operations, mob monitoring, fire detection, border patrolling, illegal hunting and several other such uses.
Recreational and private use drones have gained prominence recently and is widely being used by individuals including aspiring aviation students, corporate retailers, and media agencies to name a few. The Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (the FAA) has recently proposed a framework of regulations[i] that would allow routine use of certain small unmanned aircraft systems in today's aviation system, while maintaining flexibility to accommodate future technological innovations. The regulations are currently in drafting stage and FAA has called for comments from public on the regulations.
Singapore has recently introduced bill covering drone usage and the new law will allow any use of recreational or private use of drones if[ii] such drones i) do not weigh more than prescribed limit of 7 kg (without its fuel); ii) do not interfere (directly or indirectly) with any designated flight zones (flying of drones within five kilometres of an aerodrome, or at an altitude higher than 200 feet above the mean sea level when outside five kilometres of an aerodrome[iii]); iii) is in compliance with the regulations.
The Civil Aviation Department (CAD) of Hong Kong has set out general parameters for safe operations of non-recreational UAVs. The rules proposed by CAD are more or less similar to that of Singapore (except for varying fines and criterions).CAD's guidelines set out other limits including altitude of operations (altitude of UAVs should not exceed 300 feet above ground level), time of operations (daylight only), one UAV at a time per block of designated airspace and weather criteria (ground visibility of not less than 5 kilometres) amidst a few other criterias.
Perhaps the most complex UAV laws in the entire world exist just north of United States borders. Transport Canada is the agency that regulates Canadian air space, and it sets a clear line between “unmanned aerial vehicles” (commercial use) and “model aircraft” (recreational use). The definition of a model aircraft: less than 77.2 pounds, individually owned (no companies allowed) and not profit-seeking. If an aircraft meets these conditions, it is considered a recreational vehicle, making it subject to lower scrutiny. Aircraft that don’t meet these criteria are officially “unmanned aerial vehicles” and require Special Flight Operations certificates. Attaining these certificates can be quite tedious. For example: a UAV can meet the three model aircraft standards listed above, but if has also got a small camera, then the UAV automatically becomes an “unmanned aerial vehicle” under the law.
Much of mainland Europe operates under the jurisdiction of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), a European Union group. EASA is simple when it comes to UAVs: you’re going to need certification in any situation, whatsoever. Such certification is only granted on a case-by-case basis under the EASA’s rules. The EASA also has shown that it does not operate under much precedent in these cases, despite UAV technology growing more and more every day.
In UAE, a law for the use of unmanned aircraft in the country, in cooperation with the Civil Aviation Authority, is in its final stages.The law will determine uses, which include height and places permitted for use. It will also determine recreational, commercial and scientific licenses for the use of unmanned aircraft. The acceptance of UAVs is gaining momentum in the country in order to harness drone technology to facilitate people's lives, whether in the country or in the world.
Dubai has introduced more restrictions on the use of drones. The main objective behind this restriction is to enhance airspace safety and security. The law No 7 of 2015 on aviation safety authorizes the Dubai civil aviation authority (DCCA) to specify the airspace for general aviation and the rules governing the use of fireworks, light beams and drones. The law regulates the activities of the civil aviation industry. It applies best practices to ensure the optimum use of Dubai’s airspace and prohibit all acts that may endanger aircraft, airport or aviation service facilities. The law includes new allowance for the DCCA to inspect all aviation towers and helipads to ensure their security and it also comply with security standards. The legislation also allows increased inspection and monitoring of workers and activities in the industry. Law No (7) of 2015 concerning airspace safety and security in the emirate of Dubai issued by his Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum stipulates that any person who wishes to practice the civil aviation profession in the emirate of Dubai must first obtain an authorization from the DCCA. Authorization will be issued in accordance with the requirements and procedures determined by a resolution of the director general of DCAA and will be valid for a period of one year renewable for the same period. A person who practice the civil aviation profession and wants to renew his authorization must submit a renewal application to the DCAA 30 days prior to expiry of the authorization. The law stipulates that no natural person or legal person may breach any legal duty which may compromise airspace safety in the emirate in any manner whatsoever. The law also stipulates that any affected party may submit a written grievance to the director general of the DCAA against, any decision, procedure or measure taken against him under the law and the resolutions issued in pursuance within 30 days of being notified of the contested decision, procedure or measure. The grievance will be determined within 30 days from the date of its submission by a committee formed by the director general for this purpose and the decision on grievance will be final.
The new law on unmanned aircrafts signed by the Russian president Vladimir Putin impels the private owners of the unmanned aircrafts (weighing over 250gms) to be registered with the Federal Air Transport Agency. This act is expected to come in force by the end of March, 2016. Pre-requisites like submission of a written fight plan to the regional body, and its strict adherence once agreed upon along with a mandatory registration of drones ensures congenial public safety.
The rules on use of drones in Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Denmark and Norway are classified on the basis of its size & their use i.e private/commercial. In Sweden small sized drones weighing below 7 kilograms are allowed to be flown, at least 50 meters from the houses and roads requiring the private users to have a permit & liability insurance. Whereas Denmark does not require a permit for private use of a small drones but its use is only allowed in the countryside- 150 meters from houses and roads. Norway does not maintain private use of small drones. All these countries mandate the private use of small drones to be operated within a visual line of sight that is maximum 300 meters. However it is pertinent to note that conditions for obtaining permissions remain different in every country with respect to small drones (below 7 kilograms) for commercial use. A predetermined criterion in Norway is for the permit requestor to submit a written handbook stating the operations, security and the flight procedures. These rules are to ensure a good regulation of drones addressing aspects like security procedures, assessment of Pilots etc.
This short general roundup only attempts to scratch the surface of the UAV regulation situation as it unfolds across the globe. Every year, as remote controlled aerial vehicles get more and more popular and their uses grow, they get more and more attention from both the media as well as the regulators. Even though popular media may refer to any UAV as a drone, one must always remember that it can mean anything from a small quadcopter flown as a hobby to an advanced military weapon. Although drones have an immense application in vivid areas, it also attracts various risks to person and property. Understanding the local legislation is a key to understanding efficient and legally permissible use of drones.
Technology and safety improvements are likely to have a significant effect on how stringent the regulations need to be, as the drone owners may not live up to the pre-requisites set by regulations, thus under-writing and drafting of rules for this area continues to remain a challenge.