New Paradigms for Drone Regulation

Recent advances in drone technology are fundamentally transforming aviation in ways that have the potential to remake mobility networks and democratize the airspace. However, most governments are subjecting drones to legacy approaches of aviation regulation, focused on specific equipment requirements. Regulators lack approval mechanisms for innovative new types of flight, including drones flying autonomously, as well as multiple drones flown by one operator, or beyond the operator’s line of sight. These outdated approaches are hampering socially and economically beneficial uses of drone technology such as bringing people lifesaving supplies, lifting people out of gridlock on the roads, and better understanding and protecting our environment. 

Performance-based regulations a concept that has been proposed by experts in recent years but never fully developed or implemented, would solve this problem by having civil aviation authorities establish acceptable thresholds of risk (rather than proscribing specifications) while allowing manufacturers and operators to demonstrate how they will meet those standards regardless of specific equipment used. This new approach has the potential to allow new use cases and participants in the drone ecosystem -- while still ensuring safety and security.

The government of Rwanda is the first country to have national scale drone delivery, bringing blood products to rural clinics. Having seen positive benefits from this program, the government decided it needed to rewrite its drone regulations in order to allow for more use cases and expand the number of drone companies in Rwanda. Beginning in mid-2017, the Government of Rwanda partnered with the World Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to become the first country in the world to design and adopt a framework of performance-based regulations for all classes of drones, bringing together a diverse community of major aerospace companies, innovative drone start-ups, new mobility platforms, leading experts, and key local stakeholders.

The Rwandan cabinet approved the framework in January 2018, which sets a new standard for open, accountable, and risk-based access to airspace that can enable any type of drone operation in any location while maintaining safety, a first for drone regulations. The Forum is continuing to support the government in expanding its drone ecosystem as well as testing the impact of the new policy, iterating the framework based on initial findings, and sharing learnings globally.