The state of drone regulation in 2023

Researchers at Drone Industry Insights have released their analysis of the state of drone regulation in 2023, and below is their report.

Drone regulations are structured so that binding aviation law, non-binding aviation law and technical standards interact with one another and form a layered regulatory infrastructure for the drone industry.

Binding aviation laws have been developed since the 2000s when the topic of civil rules for drone operation was first addressed by the ICAO in 2005.

But starting in 2012, national aviation authorities started to define the first frameworks of drone regulations (USA, South Africa, Australia). Since then, the rules have been in a constant process of improvement.

From very hard, to too soft, to the modern risk-based rules, drone regulation continues to evolve. As described in this blog, three phases currently impact drone operations:

  • basic rules,
  • advanced flight rules and
  • the introduction of system requirements.

Basic flight rules are common in most of the countries where drones are allowed to be operated.

Advanced flight rules include requirements such as risk assessments and availability of operation manuals. A common procedure here is the SORA (Specific Operations Risk Assessment) process which was initially defined by the JARUS (Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems) organization.

This standard is widely accepted and has been integrated into national legislation (in the EU and Australia) or is planned to be (China, Indonesia, or Malaysia).

Finally, system requirements are requirements for the hardware or software of a drone or flight-associated system (such as a UTM system). These drone regulation requirements are genuinely new. While operational responsibility was initially borne solely by the operator, safety-related systems requirements are now to be implemented already during the manufacturing and design stage.

It is worth noting that without certification of system requirements, there will never be an urban operation to transport cargo. The following example shows how quickly the rules for drone regulation have changed: Before 2019, out-of-sight flights (BVLOS) were only feasible with special permission in very few countries (like France) as a rule.

Today, swarm flights out of sight or regular flights in controlled airspace can be performed with minimal lead time. The current focus is on the definition of system requirements and the associated means of compliance, but also the implementation of these by manufacturers and operators.

The focus of system requirements in 2023 will be on remote identification and drone certification.

In the US, operators need to be compliant with the Remote ID rule by December 16th, 2023. In Europe, the EU member states need to have available an Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system since January 26th, 2023 (compliance with U-space rule (EU) 2021/664) and UAS class certificationby December 31st, 2023 (Compliance with (EU) 2019/947 and (EU) 2019/945).

Case Study: Setting up a UTM System – (by Pawel Korzec, CEO of DroneRadar)

Compliance with drone regulation (EU) 2021/664 means that member states must have identified U-space airspace areas where drones will be able to fly advanced drone operations.

These operations will be supported by certified USS service providers. In areas where unmanned traffic will be expected to be integrated with manned aviation, USSPs will coordinate drone operations with the Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs).

To facilitate communication, all the operational data used by/between USPs, ANSPs and drone operators will be managed by the Common Information Service Provider (CISP).

Setting up a UTM: the Case of Poland

The idea behind UTM implementation in Poland was trivial but probably not obvious.

As General Aviation pilots, we wanted to protect ourselves from unaware and irresponsible drone operators. To achieve this, we created an easy-to-understand mobile application called Droneradar, which eventually turned out to be the basis of the UTM system.

As pilots, we are aware how complex the airspace is and how much we need to rapidly learn to understand both drone regulations and airspace structure. Therefore, we set ourselves a task in which we decided to aggregate all possible sources of aeronautical information, such as: AIP (Aeronautical Information Publication), AIP supplements, NOTAM (Notice to Airmen), AUP (Airspace Use Plan) and UUP(Updated Airspace Use Plan).

Armed with this data, we wrote an algorithm that interpreted the meaning of drone regulations using a simple, three-color indicator, informing about the possibility of making a flight at a given place and time, using a drone with a certain weight and parameters.

The military and civilian ANSP liked this so much that they allowed us to develop software for their TWR and FIS workplaces.

From the very beginning, we have been building awareness for drone users in social media. We knew that the drone regulations themselves are so difficult that the chance that a person who is not interested in aviation will understand them is very little. Then, we concluded that we must test our applications with children before implementation.

As bizarre as it sounds, it turned out that children are the best testers.

Despite the fact that many companies with a global reach appeared on the UTM market, we were the only ones who managed to create a system in Poland that was recognized by ANSP, Military ANSP and CAA. From the beginning, we believed in the completeness and integrity of data. We knew there were no shortcuts. We were aware that any misinterpretation or omission of data could have legal or tragic consequences.

From the very beginning, we also knew that communication between air traffic services and UAS pilots would be a challenge. We had to exclude the possibility of communication on aviation frequencies (due to the fact that these frequencies in controlled airspaces are already full, because there is no radio coverage near the ground and finally, there is no aviation phraseology for drone pilots).

The phone call connection was also to be ruled out. Ultimately, internet was the only option left. In this way, we created and implemented concept of two-way, non-verbal communication, called CDDLC (Controller Drone Data Link Communication) by analogy with the CPDLC known from manned aviation. Today, CDDLC provides two-way communication where the controller is always informed about whether its message (order) has been delivered, read and executed.

Using an UTM system: What is possible now in Poland?

Droneradar was a co-author and principal co-developer of the PansaUTM system. Having the Droneradar application integrated with the PansaUTM system (accredited for operational use) provides most of the U1 to U3 services. Among them, the following should be mentioned in particular:

  1. Information about the possibility of performing the flight at a given place and time
  2. Two-way non-verbal communication between civil and military air traffic services and UAS pilot
  3. Dynamic airspace reconfiguration
  4. Possibility to submit an Operational Flight Plan, where it is required (e.g. at CTR, at selected times). The Droneradar application informs when and where Operational Flight Plan submission is required.
  5. Possibility of automatic flight acceptance at the strategic and tactical level
  6. Air Traffic Services have the ability to decide on the capacity of selected airspace elements (segments)
  7. Possibility of strategic integration with various stakeholders such as LAU (Local Administration Units) – the flight plan will be accepted after all stakeholders have approved it
  8. Definition of Priority Users 112
  9. Definition of Frequent Flyer operators, for whom an automatic permission for Take Off is issued after meeting certain conditions
  10. Integration of all possible aeronautical information

… and many, many others.

Finally, although we provide a great and free tool for communication, it turns out that, the weakest and most unpredictable component of the entire U-space is the human being. In other words, perhaps the one thing that will make or break a UTM system and its successful implementation is the individuals who interact with it.


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