Drones And Airspace Management

Posted: 14 Jun 2018

See all articles by Gregory S. McNeal

Gregory S. McNeal

Pepperdine University - Rick J. Caruso School of Law; Pepperdine University - School of Public Policy

Date Written: April 28, 2018


Throughout the world, the initial response to the sudden rise in the number of unmanned aircraft has been for national, regional, and local authorities to establish "no-fly zones" oftentimes closing wide swaths of airspace with few opportunities to open the airspace once closed. This approach has not worked as we have witnessed law-abiding operators following these often ill-defined rules precluded from delivering the value of unmanned aircraft technology to society, while scofflaws ignore the law and continue to operate in places and ways that raise concerns for the public.

In response to these trends, we have witnessed many in industry attempt to port the purely national model and preemptive approach of manned aviation regulation into the regulation of unmanned aircraft, usurping local rules and creating conflicts between drone operators and communities. Industry's approach, while understandable, will also fail as it does not recognize that drones provide their greatest value in close proximity to people and property and therefore the appropriate legal and regulatory structure must recognize the social and political concerns present in this airspace. The concerns in these airspaces are of a type that manned aviation has rarely had to deal with at scale. New models and experiments are underway globally which are demonstrating how a collaborative approach is preferable to both the preemptive approach offered by some in the industry and the restrictive approach followed by some authorities.

This paper will outline why the two approaches explained above are failing and if continued will likely prevent the widespread adoption of drones and eventually autonomous systems conducting more advanced operations (such as BVLOS and flights over people). The paper will argue that a moderated approach focused on the delegation of certain airspace management legal and regulatory authorities, leveraging modern technologies such as unmanned traffic management and geoawareness is the best path towards rapidly opening airspace and enabling advanced operations.

Keywords: drones, airspace management, law, policy, unmanned aircraft, remotely piloted aircraft systems, unmanned traffic management, uspace

JEL Classification: K10, K23, K42, R49, R59

Suggested Citation

McNeal, Gregory S., Drones And Airspace Management (April 28, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3186115

Gregory S. McNeal (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University - Rick J. Caruso School of Law ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States

Pepperdine University - School of Public Policy ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States

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