Unmanned aerial vehicles: Legal and safety issues in travel

Any machine capable of flight without on-board human control is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or Unmanned Aerial System (UAS).

Unmanned aerial vehicles: Legal and safety issues in travel

Any machine capable of flight without on-board human control is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or Unmanned Aerial System (UAS). This includes drones, model aircraft, and Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).

Civilian UAV usage varies from filming, photography, surveillance, patrol, parcel delivery, and recreational flying.

Increase in civilian use over the last two decades has caught regulators flat footed. As a result, most countries have no specific laws to regulate design, manufacture, acquisition, usage, and operations. UAVs are over-the-counter items, affordable and available for purchase by private consumers regardless of age, intention, and operational knowledge.

UAVs are a potential danger to manned aviation and the public because:

– They do not go through meticulous design, production, and certification processes. A power and communication link loss for instance, could turn any UAV into a lethal object.

– It is not mandatory to carry safety equipment like transponders or strobe lights, so most UAVs are neither visible nor do they communicate with Air Traffic Control (ATC) or other aircraft.

– UAV operators are not licensed by National Aviation Authorities so their operational competence cannot be assessed.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there were 765 reports of UAV possible encounters with manned aircraft for the period 13th Nov 2014 to 20th August 2015.

On May 30, 2014, a pilot of an ATR-72 landing at London South-end Airport reported having sighted a drone flying within 25 meters of the aircraft. He filed Airprox report No. 2014073 with the United Kingdom Airprox Board.

On January 23, 2015, airspace around Dubai International Airport was shut down for close to one hour due to recreational unmanned vehicles in the air navigation passage of planes.

Beyond civil aviation, UAVs in the wrong hands could be used as weapons. This raises safety and security concerns. Privacy, copyright, and data protection issues arise when UAVs are used for unauthorized surveillance, photography, and video recording.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recognizes UAV operations alongside manned aircraft in Article 8 of the International Convention on Civil Aviation, and in annex 2, 6, 7, and13.

In 2015, ICAO published technical and operational guidance material in Document 10019 (Manual on Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems). This document excludes model and recreational UAVs.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) have three components: A Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), Remote Pilot Station (RPS), and Command and Control (C2) link. They are capable of flying long distances Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), Beyond Radio Line of Sight (BRLOS), and across international borders. RPA can be controlled by different RPS at a time during flight.

Document 10019 addresses design, certification, registration, operations, airworthiness, licensing, flight rules, hand over/coordination procedures from one RPS to another, safety management, and licensing standards.

The guidelines in Document 10019 address unmanned aircraft involved in international civil aviation. Though possible, they are complex, require training, infrastructure, and will take time for Contracting States to adopt and implement.

To ensure safety, UAVs should meet the same safety and operational standards as manned aircraft. However, in many countries, regulatory regimes have not kept pace with demand and are yet to come to speed with operational regulation.

Below is an analysis of UAV specific regulatory and/or technical guidance materials in selected countries (as of January 31, 2016).


Civil Aviation Law of the Arab Republic of Egypt (No. 28 of 1981). All unmanned aircraft are prohibited except with permission from the Civil Aviation Authority.


According to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority website, UAV oversight is one of the specific functions of Directorate of General Aviation (DGA). However, no specific regulations are posted on the website.


In early 2015, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority published a notice on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles on its website. Approval and authorization must be sought from the Ministry of Defense and Kenya Civil Aviation Authority before procuring, testing or operating Remotely Piloted Aircraft.


Part 101 of the South Africa Civil Aviation Regulations:

• All RPA irrespective of use must have nationality and registration marks.

• RPA flown for recreation need no permission from SACAA but must be flown within visual line of sight (VLOS), outside controlled airspace, clear of obstacles and the operator must observe all statutory requirements relating to privacy, liability and laws enforceable by other state agencies.
• RPAs flown for commercial purposes must be registered with SACAA and the operator must hold a RPA Pilot License.

• All RPA are subject to SACAA certification requirements and must have fail safe operation modes.

• BVLOS and controlled airspace operations are permitted only if the RPA is fitted with transponder, altimeter, navigation and strobe lights and operational specifications have been disclosed to ATC.

• Night operations are permitted but should not exceed 400ft above the ground.

• Operators have to be licensed and all take offs are subject to clearance from SACAA.

• Applicants for a license have to be 18 years or older. Licenses are valid for 12 months.

• Toy aircraft or models cannot be flown more than 400 feet above ground except with consent from the Director General of SACAA.

• Flights are prohibited in controlled, prohibited airspace, near aerodromes, close to manned aircraft except with permission from SACAA.

• Flights are prohibited over crime scenes, Courts and National Key points.


Canadian Aviation Regulations:

• Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in excess of 35Kg and those flown for commercial purposes regardless of weight can only be operated in accordance with a special flight operations certificate (SFOC).

• UAVs weighing less than 2kg are exempt from SFOC requirements if flown within line of sight, away from built up areas, aerodromes, and other restricted areas.

• The SFOC application has to be submitted to Transport Canada 20 days in advance and includes inter-alia; name and contact information of the applicant, type and purpose of proposed operation, date and time of proposed operation, altitudes and routes to be used.

• Only daytime VLOS operations are permitted.

• Permission must be obtained before flying over private property or taking photographs.

• UAVs between 2-25kg can be operated under an exemption provided inter-alia, that the operator is 18 years or older and has a minimum of USD 100,000 liability insurance cover for the operations. Only VLOS operations are permitted under the exemption.

• Model aircraft should not be flown in a manner that is hazardous to aviation safety.


Public Law 112-95 (the F.A.A Modernization and Reform Act) 2012; Advisory Circular No. 91-57A, change 1:

• Small unmanned aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds (25kg) are exempt from FAA regulations and approvals if flown for recreation within flying community guidelines.

• Model aircraft flying within 5 miles of an airport require permission from the airport operator and ATC.
• Model aircraft are limited to VLOS operations.

• Model aircraft operators that endanger the safety of the national airspace system through careless or reckless operations may be subject to FAA enforcement action.

• Model Aircraft need authorization to operate in prohibited areas, special flight rule areas and must comply with Temporary Flight Restrictions.

• Operations are limited to 400ft above ground.

• Public/ Government operations are conducted pursuant to a Certificate of Waiver/ Authorization issued by the FAA.

• Civil/ commercial operations have to be sanctioned by the FAA either by way of a certificate of waiver/authorization or a Special Airworthiness Certificate upon demonstration of quality assurance in design, construction and operations.


Information on UAV use is contained in Department of Airspace Control Circular AIC N.21 effective 23/9/2010:

• Flights are prohibited over cities, villages and groups of people.

• Flights are only permitted in segregated airspace.

• UAVs must meet the same safety standards required for manned aircraft.

• Requests for UAV flights into Brazil must be submitted 15 days in advance to the Department of Airspace Control (DECEA).


Cap 393: Air Navigation Order 2009, 4th Edition April 2015:

• UAV operations are prohibited in controlled airspace, aerodrome traffic zones and above 400ft unless ATC permission has been obtained.

• Operations are not permitted in congested areas.

• The legal requirement for safe operations is placed on the operator.

CAP 658: Model Aircraft: A Guide to Safe Flying (www.caa.co.uk/cap658) 4th Edition February 2012.

• Regulates Small Unmanned Vehicles (0-20kgs) or model aircraft used for sporting and recreational purposes.

• Operators must have due regard to safety of persons, property and local bye-laws.

• Flying models below 7kg do not require permission outside regulated airspace. Models that weigh more than 7kg need permission only if maximum altitude is planned to exceed 400 ft.

• Models 7-20kg must not be flown in Aerodrome Traffic Zones or controlled airspace except with ATC permission.

• Operations should be clear of congested areas of human settlement.

• Large Models (20-150kgs) are designed, built and tested under the supervision of the Large Modeling Association which confirms statutory design, build standards, and issues a certificate of Design and Construction.

• Large models can only be operated under the terms of an exemption issued by CAA.

• All models, regardless of weight must have a fail-safe mode where engine power is reduced to idle in case of loss or corruption of signal.

• Safety checks should be conducted pre and post flight.

• To ensure safety, operators should consider visibility, wind strength, direction, sufficient space for conducting take offs and landings, obstructions like buildings and electric cables.

• Model control should only be on allocated radio frequencies.

• Recommends consultation with model flying associations before one can make a purchase.

• Provides rules for conducting model display e.g. spectator safety areas and fire equipment on site.

• Provides for occurrence reporting. Accidents and incidents at displays must be reported to the respective model association and the CAA.

CAP 722: Unmanned Aircraft System Operation in the UK Airspace-Guidance, 6th Edition March 2015:

• Categorizes UAS into three; Small UAS (0-20kg), Light UAS (20-150kg) and UAS (above 150kg).

• UAS above 150 kg are regulated by the European Aviation Safety Agency (Regulation E.C No. 216/2008).

• The categories have different certification, licensing and operational requirements. For example, small UAS require no type certificate while large UAS require a type certificate. Small UAS are limited to 400ft VLOS, RLOS while large UAS can be operated above 400ft, BVLOS and BRLOS. Pilot competence for small UAS is considered on a case by case basis while for large UAS it is a requirement.

• Insurance coverage is mandatory for UAS operations.

• Operating Safety requirements have to be submitted to the CAA for all categories for operations over congested areas.

• Pilot training and licensing requirements are not yet fully developed. The CAA considers competence for operations on a case-by-case basis although three critical elements constitute acceptable levels of pilot competency namely; adequate theoretical knowledge/general airmanship, successful completion of a practical flight assessment on class of UAS being applied for and a minimum amount of recent flying experience on the class of UAS being applied for.

• Operators must submit operations manuals before permission to fly is granted.


Civil Aviation Regulation Part VIII Subpart 10 (Operation of Unmanned Aerial Systems in the United Arab Emirates), effective April 13, 2015.

• UAS are classified depending on mass, capability and operations; 0-5kg, 5-25kg and above 25kg. Usage may be private or commercial/state. Registration with the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) Licensing department is mandatory for all UAVs.

• For UAVs weighing 25 kg or more, the operator must be at least 21 years of age and must have obtained the necessary security clearance.

• Only VLOS daytime operations are permitted for recreational/sport UAVs, and to a maximum altitude of 400ft.

• Operations are permitted in uncontrolled airspace up to 4500ft for commercial/state UAVs, with GCAA approval.

• Security clearance is required before using cameras or video recording equipment.

• It is the operator’s responsibility to avoid collisions, flights over populated areas and private properties.

• The Operator must give way to manned aircraft, and immediately land the UAV once sound from an approaching aircraft has been heard.

• Flights over public and private properties or within 5km of airfields and heliports are prohibited.

• Operations must be conducted in accordance with the manufacturer’s user manual, observing minimum equipment and operator requirements.

• Direct radio link must be maintained between the UAV and operator.

• GCAA’s approval must be obtained for operations outside flying clubs.

• Cameras, recorders or other surveillance equipment is prohibited for recreational/private use while GCAA approval must be obtained for commercial/state UAVs.

• UAS operators permitted to operate in segregated airspace are required to operate within the same regulatory framework as manned aircraft and are expected to comply with ATC instructions.

• The GCAA should be notified of accidents/incidents involving UAVs.


No regulations currently in force. However, by virtue of a public notice dated 7th October 2014. UAS operations are prohibited in Indian airspace except with permission from the Air Navigation Service Provider, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Home Affairs and other concerned security agencies besides the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).


Operations are regulated by the unmanned Aircraft (Public Safety and Security) Act No. 16 of 2015. It introduces criminal sanctions for:

• Taking photographs of protected areas without security clearance.

• Flying over protected areas without security clearance.

• Carrying dangerous items like weapons or radioactive substances.

• Discharging anything from the UAV in the absence of a discharge permit.

• Operating UAVs in a manner that disrupts, interferes with, delays or obstructs special events.

• Upon conviction, fines range from USD 20,000 to USD 100,000 and prison terms range from 5 to 12 years.

• Authorized persons are empowered to intercept and seize unmanned aircraft if they suspect that any law has been contravened or public safety is likely to be endangered.

According to guidelines on the Singapore CAA website, operational permits are not required for recreation or research UAVs that weigh less than 7kg and are used indoors for non-commercial activities. Permits are required for flying in restricted areas, outdoor use and operations within 5km of an aerodrome or military base.


Civil Aviation Rules Part 101 and 102, effective September 24, 2015.

• Part 101 deals with UAVs that weigh between 0-25kg and part 102 deals with potentially hazardous operations that need certification from New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority.

• UAVs that weigh between 15-25kg must be constructed, inspected, approved and operated only by persons approved by the CAA.

• Only VLOS day time operations up to 400ft are permitted and manned aircraft have right of way.

• Operations in controlled airspace and within 4km of aerodromes are prohibited except with permission from ATC.

• Consent has to be sought from owners of property above whom UAVs are to be flown.

Save for Egypt which passed legislation more than three decades ago, UAV regulation is a new area, constantly evolving, yet to be standardized and tested.

The differences from absolute prohibition, tough criminal sanctions to lack of regulation shows that many countries are yet to understand and/or appreciate UAV operations. The different approaches have implications;

Absolute prohibition denies society the advantages associated with drone technology for instance, conducting inspections where it is unsafe for human beings like in radioactive or flooded areas. High operating costs associated with operating fixed wing aircraft or helicopters for aerial surveys/photography can be reduced by UAV operations. Absolute prohibition denies society this cost saving opportunity.

Harsh criminal sanctions, although justified in densely populated urban environments like Singapore, could undermine just culture and voluntary occurrence reporting, which are essential to aviation safety.

Lack of regulation is no bar to acquisition and use. In Uganda for instance, several media houses have imported UAVs for aerial filming and photography. Without registration, licensing or insurance requirements, it might be impossible to trace an operator whose UAV has flown into private property, over an aerodrome, has collided with manned aircraft, or has simply flown out of control in the process injuring or killing an unfortunate bystander. Whereas such scenarios may be attributed to human/pilot error, there is a higher possibility of the same occurring due to absence of licensing regulations that help assess operational/pilot competence.

Mandatory insurance cover is vital in the event of damage to property, injury or death arising out of UAV operations.

National security might come under threat when drones are flown into or over government installations. Data collected could be used by criminals or terrorists to plan attacks. In such scenarios, security agencies might find difficulty in tracking down operators because of lack of registration records.

Requiring approvals from multiple state agencies before operations is unnecessarily bureaucratic. Not only does this waste valuable time, it might encourage corruption to speed up approvals, especially in third world countries where the vice is entrenched. The possible increase in time and costs could erode the convenience and economy associated with UAV technology.

Just like cellular phones and social media, UAVs are part of our society, with ever increasing demand and usage. It makes no sense for regulators to prohibit or ignore societal demands. Permitting use within defined parameters with detailed regulation and enforcement mechanisms (like United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates) is the only way safe and orderly operations can be guaranteed.

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