Accelerating the Drone Revolution

Regulatory Gaps in Aviation

Recent advances in drone technology are fundamentally transforming aviation with 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 These outdated approaches are hampering socially and economically beneficial uses of drone technology limiting the ability to provide lifesaving supplies, lifting people out of gridlock on the roads, and better understanding and protecting our environment.


Performance-Based Regulations (PBR), a concept that has been proposed by experts in recent years but never fully developed or implemented, solves this problem by having civil aviation authorities establish acceptable thresholds of risk (rather than prescribing 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. 

From Pilot to Scale: Rwanda's First National Scale Regulation goes Global!

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 Centre 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. Already, this new regulatory framework has enabled new businesses to establish themselves for infrastructure inspections, agricultural and pest spraying, and surveying of crops and land titling.

In February 2020, the World Economic Forum partnered with the World Bank and Government to host a community of African regulators as part of the African Drone Forum. This event brought together 60+ regulators from over 25 countries throughout the continent to scale progressive drone regulations using performance based regulations originally tested in Rwanda. Additionally, the World Bank and the World Economic Forum plan to release an extensive series of case studies and knowledge products to

The Advanced Drone Operations Toolkit

The Forum is continues to support the Rwandan government in expanding its drone ecosystem as well as testing the impact of the regulatory new policy, iterating upon the framework based on initial findings and international input, and sharing learnings globally. Recognizing the importance of harmonizing regulatory approaches to foster industrial viability and transnational flights, the World Economic Forum is working with ICAO, the African Union, World Bank, UNICEF and many more to put together a community of leaders who can drive international discussion.

To accelerate the scaling of new approaches to drone regulation, the Drones and Tomorrow's Airspace Team published the first governance toolkit to enable government oversight. This publication, the Advanced Drone Operations Toolkit (ADOT) provides a framework for governments seeking to create innovative and important operations in the sky while highlighting the innovative approaches taken by the Swiss Government and Rwandan Government. 

The New Paradigms in Drone Regulation project continues to scale this work globally in a partnership announced in Summer 2019 in Capetown at the World Economic Forum Summit on Africa. In partnership with the World Bank and the African Drone Forum, the Aerospace and Drones Team, formerly the Drones and Tomorrow Airspace Team, convened over 60+ regulators from over 25 countries to collaborate on harmonizing drone regulations in collaboration with ICAO, World Bank, World Food Programme, AFCAC, UNICEF, and many more. This work is leading to the publication of a model drone regulation that could be used as a baseline tool for emerging economies. Further tools and case studies are being produced and are expected to be released in Summer and Fall 2020. 

Leveraging the entire community, the Aerospace and Drones Team convened leaders from government, civil society, and private industry to motivate operations in Africa to address the COVID-19 pandemic. You can view that 1-hour discussion here

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