Law Commission seeks views on regulation of self-flying and remotely piloted aircraft  

image of drone flying above coastline

The Law Commission of England and Wales is seeking views on how best to regulate self-flying and remotely piloted aircraft for now and in the future.

Automation is already heavily used in aviation today, but recent breakthroughs have seen the development of new, innovative, self-flying (“autonomous”) and highly automated systems and vehicles. These include drones and advanced air mobility vehicles, such as vertical take-off and landing (“VTOL”) aircraft, which can provide short journeys for a small number of people.

The consultation and summary are available here and is open until 27 May 2024.

The consultation will seek views on the following areas;

Safety: Safety is at the forefront of aviation. Aircraft and other systems in aviation are subject to strict standards to ensure they are safe to fly, or “airworthy”. We seek views on how the current law on airworthiness might need to be adapted for aircraft without a pilot on board, or indeed with no pilot at all.

VTOLs: These are a new type of aircraft which are expected to be used for short trips, mainly in urban environments. When first introduced, these will be controlled by a pilot on board the aircraft. However, in time these are expected to be remotely piloted; eventually they may be completely self-flying. The possibility of aircraft carrying passengers, but with no pilot on board, poses new legal problems. We are asking for views on how these new types of services can be made as safe and accessible as possible.

Drones: These are aircraft with no pilot on board, which are generally smaller than traditional aircraft. New technological advances will mean that they can fly further, beyond the line of sight of a pilot, or coordinate with one another in drone swarms. Some will be able to fly themselves. We seek views on how drones should be regulated.

Rules of the air: These are the rules that all aircraft must follow when in flight; for example, they include rules on when an aircraft will have right of way. At the moment they assume a human pilot will be on board. For example, a pilot can depart from the rules if absolutely necessary in the interests of safety. Should a self-flying aircraft be able to do the same? We seek views on how the rules of the air should be adapted to reflect remotely piloted and autonomous aircraft.

Liability: We also seek views on the civil and criminal liability of people involved in the operation of aircraft with no pilot on board.