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Uncertain Skies: Principles to Guide the Appraisal of Commercial Deployment of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems

There is little doubt that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), colloquially known as drones, have the potential to impact or change transport dramatically in different ways in the near, medium, and long term future. On some fronts drones will be used to improve existing practice (for example infrastructure surveying), and on other fronts for more innovative use such as for disaster relief, delivery not only of products, but also of novel services, in both urban and rural environments.

Work is already underway in many countries on the regulatory front to ensure safe and secure performance of UAV technology, to allocate airspace for testing and to license commercial operations for UAVs. These are all important short- and mid-term tasks to ensure that UAV technology is deployed safely. However, the role UAVs will play in the future transport mix, and more generally in society over the longer term is highly uncertain. The potential for unanticipated impacts resulting from the large-scale deployment of UAV technologies complicate the regulatory task for authorities. For instance, large scale deployment of UAVs for urban goods deliveries and, eventually, passenger travel, may have both positive impacts (e.g. traffic congestion alleviation, improved travel times) and negative impacts (e.g. loss of visual amenity, safety, noise, energy use). How should authorities balance these impacts, especially as some of these are not typically included in appraisal processes?

Authorities, especially at the local level, will have to engage with the private sector in order to weigh both the upside and downsides of UAV deployment before licensing larger-scale commercial operations. A key challenge here will be to ensure that public authorities have a broad understanding of UAV impacts and that their decision-making processes and tools – especially as concerns impact assessment and appraisal – are adapted to these new technologies and potential use cases.

A workshop will be held with key actors across the sector to address strategic issues that should be considered regarding the licensing of operations and the allocation of airspace in relation to UAV missions, profiles and geographic contexts. The workshop will cover a wide range of existing and potential use cases and seek to determine where new types of impacts may challenge existing appraisal practices and approaches. Workshop participants will seek to define principles that help guide authorities in light of these challenges and uncertainty.