Emerging and Cross-cutting Aviation Issues — Increased use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)

Increased use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)


The global market for transport and logistics supported by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is expected to grow from USD 11 billion in 2022 to USD 29 billion by 2027, according to available studies. The number of UAS produced is forecasted to grow from 2 million units in 2021 to 6.5 million in 2030. The Teal Group Corporation, in its World Civil Unmanned Aerial Systems 2021/2022 Market Profile & Forecast, highlights that “the market for civil UAS promises to be one of the most dynamic growth sectors for the next decade, emerging from a $5.8 billion market (value of air vehicles) in 2021 to more than triple to $18.8 billion by 2030. That represents a 14.1% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in constant dollars.”


The ever-increasing demand for approval of UAS operations for humanitarian, professional and commercial purposes requires an effective regulatory framework to safely manage this growth. It also requires support in the implementation of regulations, as well as adequate training capabilities to ensure that the oversight of operators and operations can be carried out effectively and efficiently.


ICAO continues to work on the development of Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and Procedures for Air Navigation Services (PANS) for international operations conducted by certificated remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS). In this context, the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Panel (RPASP) continues to build the regulatory framework that will support the safe routine international operation of fully certificated RPAS across the globe. In particular, proposals for amendments to Annex 8 — Airworthiness of Aircraft, introducing RPAS-specific airworthiness requirements, and to the first edition of Annex 10 — Aeronautical Telecommunications, Volume VI — Communication Systems and Procedures Relating to Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems C2 Link, related to “C2 Link Procedures” and “C2 Link Systems”, were both adopted in 2021. In parallel, the RPASP has continued to work on the development of other provisions in the areas of operations, detect and avoid, and air traffic management, and other areas of the regulatory framework.


In order to establish foundations for the safe, secure and sustainable integration of unmanned aviation in the global air transport system, an increasing number of coordination activities have been initiated or pursued involving a broad range of aviation disciplines. Work has been conducted in the areas of air navigation services and airport economics, including to identify cost-recovery mechanisms for providing air navigation services to UAS. Similarly, multidisciplinary efforts have continued in ICAO to assess the need for RPAS-related work with respect to Annex 9 — Facilitation and Annex 17 — Security — Safeguarding International Civil Aviation Against Acts of Unlawful Interference. Additionally, in order to address noise-related concerns arising from UAS operations, ICAO is working on appropriate environmental requirements.


Regarding the physical infrastructure needed to support the projected growth of urban air mobility/advanced air mobility (UAM/AAM) operations using vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities, ICAO has started to work on the development of technical requirements for vertiports.


The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the governments of Australia, Canada, China and the United States of America and a number of large civil aviation regulators have been working on the development of regional or national regulatory frameworks, as have some smaller States such as Rwanda and Vanuatu, where the need for urgent humanitarian action has driven regulators to implement fit-for-purpose regulations for local operations.


ICAO entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with UNICEF to support the effective implementation of UAS solutions and provide guidance to States in which UNICEF operates. Through this collaboration, ICAO will share its expertise in aviation and UAS, guidance material and subject-matter experts to facilitate engagement with Civil Aviation Authorities (CAAs) and industry stakeholders in the implementation of regulations, the designing of segregated airspace and the oversight of UAS activities for humanitarian and development purposes.


ICAO is also coordinating with the World Food Programme (WFP) and World Bank Group to support their UAS activities, and is working with the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and other entities on security matters related to the unlawful use of UAS.


Building on regional and national regulatory developments, ICAO has continued to develop the Model UAS Regulations and accompanying Advisory Circulars (ACs). These documents offer a template for Member States to implement or supplement their existing UAS regulations for the domestic operation of uncertificated, typically smaller, UAS. Since the Model UAS Regulations and ACs are intended to be living documents, they will evolve as operations and the industry mature, providing States and regulators with internationally harmonized material based on latest developments.


In 2021, ICAO finished developing five courses, including the Unmanned Aviation Fundamentals virtual classroom course, which provides CAA personnel involved in the regulation of unmanned aviation with the competencies required to address current and emerging safety issues related to unmanned aircraft operating in international and national airspace, consistent with ICAO SARPs.


Furthermore, to help States to support safe UAS operations, ICAO has developed a dedicated Implementation Package (iPack). This iPack is a self-contained set of regulatory and training tools aimed at assisting and guiding ministries of transport, CAAs and other organizations in developing a UAS regulatory framework consistent with the principles and strategies set forth in the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention) and its Annexes.


ICAO held its fourth DRONE ENABLE Symposium in a virtual format on 13–15 and 20–21 April 2021. This meeting, attended by 614 registered participants, brought together industry, academia, government and international organizations in the unmanned aviation sector to discuss best practices, lessons learned, research material and challenges related to the introduction of UAS and UAS traffic management (UTM).


Preparations began for the publication of the fourth edition of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM) – A Common Framework with Core Principles for Global Harmonization. Since UTM as a concept is already under development, a common understanding of its framework and principles is essential to ensuring global harmonization and interoperability. ICAO’s UTM Framework provides the foundations for consistent rules and regulations, facilitates consensus on best practices and standards, and supports the development of common guidance material.

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