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Research Questions

  1. What types of drone regulations exist throughout the world?
  2. What strategies are both developed and developing countries taking with regard to drone regulation?
  3. Are these regulatory strategies permissive, allowing for the easy adoption of new technologies, or restrictive, preventing the adoption of new technologies until potential repercussions are understood?

As unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) rapidly evolve, regulators around the world are scrambling to keep up with new uses, capabilities, and technology. Understanding international drone legislation is critical to determine which countries will be the most open to the use of delivery drones and what sort of precedent is set for late-acting countries to adopt legislation. The United States, for example, has found itself scrambling to satisfy the regulatory relaxation requested by commercial drone companies; at least half a dozen countries with permissive drone laws allow for deliveries either in low-population zones or universally. These countries may become targets for further drone investment if the U.S. regulatory environment does not become friendlier toward delivery drone companies. To address this issue, the author summarizes national-level commercial drone regulations across the world, discusses the regulatory approaches taken by different countries, and examines how such approaches might help or hinder the use of delivery drones.

Key Findings

Approaches to Regulation Differ Across the Globe

  • Approaches to regulation differ dramatically across the globe, but the elements of regulation are largely the same from country to country, with wide ranges on the level of restrictiveness of each element that are often dictated by whether a country favors the promotion of new technology or a safety-first approach. The standard example of national drone regulation tends to have a pilot's license, aircraft registration, restricted zones, and insurance. The requirements of these four elements vary based on drone mass, drone altitude, drone use, and pilot license level.

Drone Regulation Strategies Vary by Country

  • The regulatory methodologies for incorporating drones into legal systems range from outright bans on the use of commercial drones, to permissive legislation, to a strategy of waiting to observe the efficacy of other nations' policies before acting.

Obstacles to Delivery Drone Use Remain Widespread

  • The primary obstacle to using delivery drones in most nations is a requirement that drones stay within the pilot's visual line of sight. Some countries, such as Japan, are experimenting with delivery beyond visual line of sight in restricted areas, with the hope of expanding the program countrywide once effective regulations become apparent.


  • Even for countries with existing drone legislation, laws are constantly being reevaluated. While drone laws almost always move toward a more permissive approach to regulation, critical infrastructure improvements may aid in the success of such a transition.
  • Specialized training courses, pilot exams based on the type of UAV and the conditions under which UAVs operate, and liability insurance to protect against mishaps over populated areas are all mechanisms for ensuring the safety of the general population as usage laws become more permissive.
  • Monitoring the evolution of international drone regulations, along with technology trends and security and safety incidents in the studied countries over the next several years will provide insight into how gradual or all-or-nothing approaches to regulation impact technology adoption, and whether or not gradual approaches to introducing untested technology mitigate potential hazards.

This project is a RAND Venture. Funding was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted by the Science, Technology, and Policy Program within RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

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