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Classifying unmanned aircraft systems: Developing a legal framework for the purposes of airworthiness certification

Nas, Michael (2015) Classifying unmanned aircraft systems: Developing a legal framework for the purposes of airworthiness certification. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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Recent years have witnessed a paradigm shift in aviation through the evolution of unmanned aircraft technologies. However, despite the apparent potential, the integration of commercial unmanned aircraft systems (‘UAS’) into the civil aviation system has not been realised. Faced with increasing pressure from stakeholders for access to airspace, aviation regulators have adopted a cautious stance while debate about appropriate airworthiness certification takes place. Traditionally, airworthiness certification has played a central role in determining the rights and requirements for airspace use, leading to an acceptably safe system. As UAS operations may disrupt the safety balance, developing an airworthiness certification regime for UAS is critical to achieving routine airspace access.

The topic of UAS classification arises as part of the debate about certification, given the practical need to establish different requirements for different types of UAS. This thesis analyses the current approaches to UAS classification, which derive primarily from technical perspectives. The current approaches diverge in relation to the appropriate methods and objectives; specifically, there is no agreed way to design or evaluate a UAS classification scheme. It is apparent that a ‘framework of reference’ that can align objectives is vital to progress. The goal of this thesis is to propose such a framework.

Despite being noted as a complex legal question since 2004, limited legal consideration has been given to UAS classification. This thesis argues that a legal perspective explains UAS classification as an exercise in lawmaking, notwithstanding the technical aspects. Adopting this perspective, the legal techniques used to control the quality of laws can be applied towards the design and evaluation of UAS classification schemes in order to generate a ‘framework of reference’. This framework serves as a platform for more focused debate about and the convergence of the multidisciplinary knowledge necessary to progress the regulatory agenda for UAS.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Law
Supervisor(s): Bröhmer, Jürgen and Goodie, Jo
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