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Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Constraints to Adoption of Commercial Drones

Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Constraints to Adoption of Commercial Drones

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Research proposal report: Drone technology and sustainability

1.0      Introduction

2.0      Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or systems (UAS) are seen as the future of aviation. Their commercial use will both disrupt the operation of existing businesses and challenge public attitudes towards safety, security, privacy, land ownership, liability, and regulation (Rao et al. 2016). They have generated and will continue to generate both fear of, and actual collision with manned aircraft. While their ability to collect data and transport loads offer significant advantages for business they are also perceived as surveillance tools threatening individual privacy, and appear burdened with the legacy of numerous military and civilian deaths associated with the war on terror in the Middle East. Drones are perceived by some as a welcome and highly discriminating technology which, if used in accordance with domestic and international law has much to offer both for future military operations and for civilian use. However, exploitation could be held back by a lack of central government policy direction. It was also a technology that used domestically could create real concerns over privacy if t h e government did not establish sensible policies and explain them to the public.(Birmingham 2014) Yet, drones are already employed in multiple roles in business applications and are regulated by governments, so spearheading the advance of robotics. Their technological development is driven both by innovative companies seeking novel applications, and by active communities of hobbyists and enthusiasts seeking new potentially commercial uses for their toys.(PwC) The tension between their current military and business uses, and their various personal applications presents unique challenges to their integration in the currently existing public, governmental and private infrastructure. (Rao et al. 2016) A review of commercial drone literature from 2010 to 2015 concluded that although commercial drone use could improve lifestyle and increase efficiency, there was a need to investigate possible negative and unknown consequences from their use (Ruppicini and So 2016)

2.0 Drone classification

Drones may be classified according to source of lift in Table 1 below, (from PwC)

Fixed wing – Using wings to provide lift and driven by propellers or fan jets powered by internal combustion engines
Single rotor – Using a single rotor to provide lift and a tail rotor to control direction;
Fixed-wing hybrid VTOL – Combining fixed-wing with vertical take-off-and-landing capability; and
Multi-rotor or multi-copter – With multiple rotors, either four (quadcopter) or eight (octocopter).

or by size as in Table 2 below

Micro Palm of hand and used indoors;
Small Between 50cm and 100cm and mostly used for filming or photography;
Medium – Twice the size of small drones. Can carry professional cameras or small parcels;
Large Able to carry heavier cargo;
Supersize – Able to carry people or very heavy loads.

In the USA the distinction is between microdrones which must weigh less than 55 pounds, and are driven by 4-8 rotors powered by electric batteries, and macrodrones which are fixed wing and exceed that weight..(Perritt and Sprague 2018). . Some drones are fully remote-controlled, equipped to fly and navigate automatically using on-board flight- planning software in conjunction with GPS and sensors. Drone technology has benefitted from advances in electronics, computing, robotics and miniaturisation, particular for smaller drone production. Their origins are different; macrodrones deriving from the need to both gather intelligence and inflict destruction on the enemy while avoiding pilot losses in armed conflict. Microdrones evolved from enthusiasts exploiting and developing their aeromodelling hobby from radio-controlled model aircraft.(Perritt and Sprague 2018).Drones can be equipped with a range of electronic equipment including sensors, cameras, video equipment, or infrared sensors for heat detection. Data acquired by the sensors offers real value to business because this data is then processed to obtain business information., analysing and interpreting the results within the wider environment, thus enabling business insights to be generated.(PwC 2018). Drone use falls into two main categories: recreational and commercial, the first involving individuals using drones as a hobby or for enjoyment, and the second using drones to generate an economic return or deliver a public service. Use by both categories is restricted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority; such restrictions including an effective ban on most uses that go ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (PwC 2018)

2.0 Rationale for Study

Initial research suggests the need for further investigation of the sustainable applications of drone technologies, a review of the legal and ethical arguments against their use, coupled with an analysis of the legal and regulatory policies governing their use

3.0 Research Questions

The research question drives the train of enquiry. (Bassey M,1999) Questions driving this research include:

  • What role should law, ethics and regulatory issues play in the adoption of new technology in UK business?
  • How far is the commercial adoption of drone technology overshadowed by its military past and current uses?
  • How sustainable is drone technology and how will business respond to this disruptive technology?
  • What are the likely outcomes for businesses which fail to employ sustainable yet controversial business solutions?

4.0 Research Methodology
Research methods provide ways to collect, sort and analyse information (Walliman, 2011) The design depends on the type of research project. This research is evaluative (Walliman, 2011) and its purpose is to examine drones from the standpoint of public attitudes, law and morality, awareness, costs/benefit, cost-effectiveness, quality assurance and above all, sustainability. It also seeks to inform the regulation agenda for drone technology. The methodologies employed are primary and secondary research. Primary research is the generation of new data in order to address a specific research question, using either direct methods such as questionnaires or indirect methods such as observation and case study as in this research. (Jupp, V. 2006: ). Jupp divides primary research into qualitative data and quantitative data, which form two clusters of research strategies (Bryman 2001). There are four basic types of primary data, measurement, observation, interrogation, and participation (Walliman,2011). Secondary research employs data that has already been interpreted and recorded (Walliman, 2011) including information previously collected which is used or interpreted in different ways. Secondary research plays a major role in this study which considers a wide range of both national and international documentary resources.

5.0 Questionnaire

Questionnaires are suitable for obtaining both quantitative and qualitative data, and cheap and quick to administer to large audiences (Walliman, 2011). However, they should be short and simple to follow. They require skilful design, for defining the questions, and viewpoints and endpoints are crucial.( Altman,1980). Data may be collected by way of internet response, the advantages of which include a high speed, good return rate and low cost. (Walliman, 2011) Qualitative data are grouped together and analysed for trends and patterns.

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6.0 Sampling
This is the process of selecting a small group of cases from out of a large group. (Walliman,2011) Sampling is used for budgeting reasons, restriction, access and time (Saunders et al. 2000). (Becker, H. S.1998) Sampling techniques allows the researcher to reduce the amount of data for collection and generalize statistically using the selected sample. (Saunders et al. 2000,) Collecting data from fewer cases enables more time to be spent on design and more detailed information to be collected. (Saunders et al.).

7.0 Research Ethics

There are two aspects of ethical issues in research: the individual values of the researcher relating to honesty and frankness and personal integrity, and the researcher’s treatment of other people involved in the research, by way of informed consent, confidentiality, anonymity and courtesy. (Walliman 2011).Scientific objectivity must be maintained and personal bias avoided.(Walliman, 2011)

Participants in questionnaires must be treated ethically, in the way they are chosen, dealt with and in the way their information is used. They must be fully informed of the aims and objectives which should be clearly and easily understood in order to give informed consent. A flyer will accompany every questionnaire.(Walliman, 2011)The principle behind ethical research is to cause no harm. Accordingly the researcher should assess the potential of the chosen research methods and their outcomes for causing harm or gain. (Walliman, 2011) The respondent’s right to confidentiality must be respected and protected.(Kelly, 2003). Any confidential data must be safely stored, securely transmitted and carefully disposed of. (Walliman, 2011).

A written résumé of research aims will be clearly stated in the questionnaire and it will accord with the university’s own ethical standards. An ethics form is attached to this report.

8.0 Contingency Planning

Despite careful planning setbacks and disasters can occur. Accordingly, the following steps will be implemented;

  1. Research tasks will be completed as quickly as possible to ensure time is available to deal with any setbacks and changes made the working timetable.
  2. All computer work will be backed up on a separate drive.
  3. If for any reason questionnaires shall be employed, then if insufficient responses are received, the audience size will be reduced. This will inevitably affect its validity.
  1. 4 Because the semi-structured interview is supplementary to the research question, if the former is for any reason ineffective, evaluative sections of the dissertation will be expanded.

9.0 Research Timeline


This report has sought to outline briefly some of the legal, ethical and regulatory issues surrounding drone technology. The dissertation will explore these issues in greater depth with a view to answering the research questions

Appendix 1


Please provide project details and complete the checklist overleaf.

Project Details:

Project title Drone technology and sustainability Feedback
Project funder
Proposed project start date October 2018  
Anticipated project end date May 2019

Applicant Details:

Name of researcher (applicant) Nicholas Lovelock
Faculty and Department
Status UG Student
Email address lovelock
Contact postal address 17 Hawthorn Grove
Contact telephone number
Name of co-researchers (where applicable)
For student applicants only:
Name of Supervisor (for student applicants)
Supervisor’s email address
Supervisor’s telephone number
Details of course/degree for which research is being undertaken

BA Hons Business Studies and Sustainability

Will participants be clearly asked to give consent to take part in the research and informed about how data collected in the research will be used?  Y
Can participants withdraw at any time if they choose, and are they told this? Y
Are measures in place to provide confidentiality for participants and ensure secure management and disposal of data collected from them? Y
Does the study involve people who are particularly vulnerable or unable to give informed consent (eg children, or people with learning difficulties)? N
Might your research cause physical or psychological harm or stress to participants, or to others, or damage to the environment? N
Are there any aspects of the research that might lead to unethical behaviour by participants or researchers? N

Explanations should indicate briefly for Qs 1-3 how these requirements will be met, and for Qs 4-6 what the pertinent concerns are.

If Qs 1-3 are answered Y and Qs 4-6 are answered N, no further reference to the Research Ethics Committee will be required, unless the research plan changes significantly. In the case of a student applicant, the supervisor should submit the form on the student’s behalf, to confirm their agreement with it.
Signature of applicant ……………………………………………… Date………………………..

Signature of supervisor ……………………………………..……… Date ………………………..



  • Birmingham Policy Commission The Security Impact of Drones 2014
  • Bryman, A. (2001) Social Research Methods, Oxford: Oxford University Pr
  • Cresswell, J. (2002) Research design: Qualitative, quantitative and mixed method
    approaches. London: Sage.
  • De Vaus, D.A. (2002) Surveys in Social Research (5th ed) London
  • Enemark C Armed Drones and the Ethics of War, Routledge 2013
  • Hakim, C. (1982) Secondary Analysis in Social Research, A guide to Data Sources
    and Methods with Examples. Boston: Allen and Unwin.
  • Jupp, V. (2006) The SAGE Dictionary of Social Research Methods. London,
    England: SAGE Publications
  • Preece, R. (2000) Starting Research: An Introduction to Academic Research and
    Dissertation Writing. London: Sage Publications.
  • Saunders M, Lewis P, Thornhill A Research Methods for Business Students Pearson Education 2000
  • Walliman N. Research Methods The Basics Routledge 2011
  • Articles

         Brunstetter D, Braun M – The implications of drones on the just war tradition J.Ethics & International Affairs, 2011

         Braun M, Brunstetter D.R. Drones, Proportionality and Jus Ad Vim Journal of Military Ethics, 2013

         Clarke R , Moses L The regulation of civilian drones’ impacts on public safety Computer Law & Security Review 30, 2014

         R Luppicini, So R A technoethical review of commercial drone use Technology in Society Volume 46, August 2016

         Rao,B, Gopi A, Maione R The societal impact of commercial drones Technology in Society, 2016

         Ravich T.M. The Integration of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles into the National Airspace 85 N.D. L. Rev. 597 (2

  • Ravich T.M Grounding Innovation Colum. Bus. L. Rev.,495 2018
  • Rule T.A, Airspace in an Age of Drones 95 Boston.U. L. Rev. 155 (2015)
  • Rule T.A, Drone Zoning 95 N.C. L. Rev. 133 (2016-2017)

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