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The murky regulation of drones

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The regulation of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) differs, sometimes remarkably, from country to country, says Michael Moran, regional head for African Aviation, Marsh.

For UAS operations to be commercially viable, national and international aviation laws may need to be overhauled and a set of international regulations developed to take UAS use into account in a consistent way. The International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) is currently working on guidance for UAS operations but the process is expected to take some time.

The ICAO plans to deliver standards on the subject via its Remotely Piloted Aircraft System Panel (RPASP) in 2018. Once approved, these standards will set out guidelines for the members of the ICAO to set up their own requirements and national regulations. This process will likely be a lengthy one, with some having suggested that the overall process could take more than a decade. Critically, the panel expects to complete the standards and recommended practices in 2020, with a clear goal for this timeline being the regulatory infrastructure behind air-traffic management sense-and avoid. It is also expected that a manual for UAS operations will be published in 2018, ahead of the standards.

The inevitability of wide-scale UAS use should not be underestimated. As with any opportunities brought about by advances in technology, they go hand in hand with a set of new and little-understood risks, which UAS operators, regulators and the insurance industry are all currently trying to understand and adapt to.

National and international regulation currently struggles to keep pace with advances in UAS technology; however, efforts are being made, albeit slowly. When looking at some of the predicted economic benefits of large-scale commercial UAS operations, it appears only a matter of time before international regulators adopt a consistent approach to UAS use.
So far, the insurance sector has responded positively to this nascent industry, with some insurers being so proactive as to write their own safety rules to fill the gap left by regulators. The road ahead, however, is filled with challenges in terms of comprehension, education and provision both to end users and manufacturers.

Concerns over privacy also abound, and there is little doubt that this issue will generate much debate in the future, particularly one a precedent has been set following a successful series of claims. At the same time, the industry is faced with a new client base that is itself grappling with a technology that is evolving at a rapid pace.

Presently, there are insufficient precedents set in terms of claims and education to enable underwriters to accurately assess the risks involved in UAS operations. However, in time this data will eventually be generated and analysed to help support and set these precedents.

On the one hand, governance will bring structure and on the other advances in technology such as sense and avoid will bring organisation. If the two reach fruition together, then the growth that has been predicted could not only be delivered, it may prove to be far greater than anyone ever imagined.