Drones and Tomorrow's Airspace

The Challenge

Unmanned aircraft systems, commonly referred to as drones, are democratizing the sky and enabling new participants in aviation. Drones already can increase crop yields, make dangerous jobs safe and act as a lifeline for remote populations. Longer term, autonomously piloted systems have the potential to revolutionize how people and goods are transported.

Although drones have the potential to transform business models and tackle societal challenges around the globe, governments are struggling to find ways to encourage innovation while maintaining public safety and confidence. Large companies, as well as a growing start-up ecosystem, are hindered in their ability to invest and expand. Enabling millions of manned and unmanned aircraft to fly concurrently will require new types of airspace management, physical infrastructure, and privacy and data ownership policies. Laying the right policy foundation and platforms for industry cooperation today, both through smart government regulation and industry-driven standards, will accelerate the adoption of new use cases and business models once the enabling technology and infrastructure are mature.

The Opportunity

The Drones and Tomorrow’s Airspace portfolio at the World Economic Forum supports the development of policy frameworks and governance tools to accelerate the societal benefits of, and mitigate the risks from, drones and other autonomous aerial vehicles. Public and private sectors, civil society, academia and other stakeholders co-design and pilot these frameworks and tools to test theories about impact, iterate based on findings and then scale up their adoption globally.

The Impact

The portfolio focuses on the following thematic areas:

New paradigms for drone regulation: Traditional approaches to drone regulation, based on specific equipment requirements, are not keeping up with the pace of technological innovation. A performance-based approach to drone regulation allows governments to determine acceptable levels of risk while giving operators flexibility in demonstrating how they can meet that threshold. The centre co-designed and piloted this framework together with the Government of Rwanda, cross-sector stakeholders and companies, creating a model that is influencing the development of regulation in other countries. The project team is now collaborating with the World Bank to scale up performance-based regulation for drones across Africa.

The Drone Innovators Network: The Drone Innovators Network brings together progressive and influential regulators and ministries of transport, supported by industry, to discuss new approaches for safely allowing cutting-edge methods of delivery, data capture and human transport using autonomous aerial systems. Launched in Zurich in June 2018, the network is releasing toolkits on themes such as drone delivery, with the first implementation of the Advanced Drone Operations Toolkit in Andhra Pradesh in 2019.

Drones for government services: Drones provide an opportunity to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of government services. The centre has partnered with the government of the Indian state of Maharashtra to undertake the largest ever drone-based mapping in two districts. From this it will create a multi-stakeholder data platform, which will integrate public and private sector data that can be used within government and by companies.

Medicine from the sky: Drones are increasingly being used to transport life-saving medical materials. Numerous pilots have been conducted around the world, but a lack of information sharing, and consistent standards are slowing attempts to achieve scale. This project will bring together key stakeholders to develop common protocols for the implementation and regulation of aerial medical supply chains.

Aerial Mobility Challenge: As cities and suburban areas struggle with increasing congestion and the need to provide mobility services for a growing population, government policymakers and urban planners are beginning  to consider  how  new  aerial platforms  can  be  part  of  the  solution. Innovative companies are seeking the ability to test the possibilities of personal autonomous flight but require a clear policy environment to support deployment and implementation. The Centre will convene a working group of experts from industry, public sector, civil society, and academia to help identify  key  challenges  and  then plan, model, and implement a ground-breaking shared aerial transportation system to test the effectiveness of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) passenger aircraft as a viable transit solution.