Rules or Guidance

1. Rules or Guidance

The civil aviation authority is responsible for ensuring aviation safety and protecting the public from aviation hazards. Operators of aircraft, whether manned or unmanned are likewise responsible for operating safely. The rapid rise of UAS raises new challenges that were not considered in historic aviation regulatory frameworks. Before devising any regulatory framework for UAS operations, the regulator should understand and assess the UAS situation in his or her State.


2. How Detailed or Broad?

The rapid growth of the UAS industry has resulted in significant and multiple challenges for States to deliver their mandate and meet the needs and expectations of the industry. Such challenges include:

  • Managing the expectations of the UAS industry
  • Completing regulatory projects within established timelines
  • Supporting test site development to enable R&D with new technologies
  • Providing training materials at UAS events in order to educate operators
  • Advancing harmonization with international counterparts
  • Developing training and guidance material on UAS operations
  • Enhancing relationships and respective roles with other government agencies
  • Engaging legal authorities to strengthen enforcement with law enforcement agencies


3. What's In or Out?

The regulator should identify key areas of concern and craft regulations that can be implemented effectively. A State’s regulations should cover all UAS operations in domestic airspace such that the UAS regulatory framework is compatible with existing aviation regulations as well as those of other sectors:

  • Frequency spectrum – Many States regulate the frequency bands that a product may use; this would include for command and control (C2)
  • Transportation of dangerous materials
  • Rights of land/property owners/trespass rules
  • Criminal codes
  • Custom and immigration concerns
  • Product safety - UAS manufactured as toy/electronic device


4. Risk-Based Approach / Safety Management System (SMS)

A risk-based approach to regulating UAS could focus on two principal risks: the risk of a UA causing a fatality to persons or damaging property on the ground and the risk of collision between a UA and another airspace user in any phase of flight.


A risk assessment would need to take into account operational complexity factors, including the size of the aircraft, location, altitudes, airspace classification and complexity of the operation, day/night operations and mitigations that may be imposed. For example:

  • ​UA size and physical characteristics (mass and materials) could influence the likelihood that the aircraft may injure people, damage property or damage another aircraft
  • ​Proximity to aerodromes or restricted/segregated airspace could increase the likelihood of a collision with other airspace users
  • ​Operations in populated or congested areas could increase the likelihood of injury to persons and loss of control due to frequency interference, loss of GNSS signal or other factors
  • ​Operating altitudes and/or airspace classification could influence the likelihood of a collision with other airspace users
  • ​Complex pilot tasks or complex operating environments could also increase the likelihood of an incident or accident


Mitigation measures may concern the UAS technology (conspicuity paint schemes or strobe lights for visibility), the remote pilot competencies, operational procedures or operator requirements (SMS, manuals etc.).


- ICAO SMS (pdf)


5. Categories

5.1 Low risk category

It is recommended that, provided the operations are within the specified conditions, operations can take place with no authorization required by the regulatory authority. Examples of these specified operations may include the following:

  • Day, visual meteorological conditions (VMC), VLOS operations only
  • Fly at a specified distance away from people, buildings and aerodromes
  • ​Fly at a specified maximum height above ground level (AGL)
  • ​In uncontrolled, non-restricted airspace
  • The aircraft operates within specific performance limitations, for example: mass, speed, ceiling, rate of climb, rate of descent

5.2 Regulated lower risk category:

This category of operations could, for example, consist of VLOS operations utilizing a low weight or low energy UA with negligible payload capacity. Operations in this category would be unlikely to result in a fatality or cause serious injury to persons on the ground and would be subject to fewer regulatory requirements although some operational restrictions would be required to protect other airspace users e.g. altitude restrictions. Remote pilots may require basic aviation knowledge and the UA could be subject to simple identification requirements and reporting requirements.

5.3 Regulated increased risk category:

This category of operations could, for example, consist of VLOS operations utilizing a larger and/or heavier aircraft with more payload capacity and with the potential to cause fatality or injury to persons on the ground or other airspace users. More stringent regulatory requirements would be required with a focus on operational limitations such as the establishment of airspace restrictions, altitudes, airspeed, proximity to aerodromes and congested/populated areas. Remote pilots may require basic aviation knowledge and the UA could be subject to simple identification and reporting requirements. This category of operations could include, with appropriate mitigations, BVLOS operations in more complex environments, such as within controlled airspace, over populated areas and at or near aerodromes. These operations would require significant risk mitigation measures, for example:

  • Operators to have an adequate management structure to ensure safe operations or the State may choose to issue RPAS Operator Certificates
  • ​Remote pilots may need to be issued licences including successfully completing practical training requirements, pass knowledge tests, specific medical examination and meet minimum age requirements
  • UAS will need to be maintained in a safe state for flight and may be subject to design standards or other airworthiness certifications
  • ​The aircraft may need to be marked and registered and the owner may be issued a Certificate of Registration
  • Operational rules applicable to this category of operations could be extensive
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