Autonomous aircraft are the latest technological development to be reviewed by the Law Commission. The two-year review of autonomous flight will examine the existing legal framework to identify challenges and opportunities related to the introduction of highly automated aviation systems, the commission said.
Automation is well established in aviation, even in passenger services – a Hawker Siddeley Trident performed the first fully automated airliner landing in 1965. However, recent breakthroughs in drone technology have created the prospect of fleets of fully autonomous craft roaming the skies, transporting people and goods. The commission’s review, funded by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) and the Civil Aviation Authority, will identify the legal challenges this raises. For example, the Air Navigation Order currently requires the person in charge of a drone to “maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft.”
Increased automation has the potential to deliver substantial benefits to the entire aviation system, UK industry and the public, the Law Commission has said. “To realize these benefits, the UK’s legislative and regulatory framework must be nimble enough to facilitate innovation, yet robust enough to maintain the high safety standards that aviation enjoys.”
Nicholas Paines QC, Law Commissioner for Public Law, said: “By undertaking a comprehensive review of automation laws, we can ensure we have a strong and evolving legal framework capable of maintaining safety standards. standards in the aviation sector, while encouraging innovation.