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ISO-approved drone standards

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has announced its first ISO-approved drone standards. These come after 12-months of consultation with drone users, academics, businesses and the general public. ISO 21384-3, Unmanned aircraft systems – Part 3: Operational procedures, has just been published.

The final publication of these new international safety and quality Standards for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are part of what the ISO describes as a wider deliverable, which it expects to trigger rapid acceleration in the use of air drones, against a background of reassurance on safety and security within a new framework of approved regulatory compliance.

The new standards include protocols on quality, safety, security and overall ‘etiquette’ for the operation of commercial air drones, which can help shape regulation and legislation, ISO says. It is the first in a series of emerging standards for air drones, with others due to address General Specifications, Product Manufacture and Maintenance, Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) and Testing Procedures. The Product Manufacture standards for UAS, which are due to be published next year, will combine with the operational standards already published to establish a full-airworthiness suite of standards for UAS.

Complementary standards will address safety, quality and terminology. These include ISO 21384-2, Unmanned aircraft systems – Part 2: Product systems, ISO 21384-4, Unmanned aircraft systems – Part 4: Vocabulary, and ISO 23665, Unmanned aircraft systems – Training for personnel involved in UAS operations.

John Walker, Chair of the ISO subcommittee that developed ISO 21384-3, said there are hundreds of applications for small UAS alone; including construction, safety, security, mining and maritime operations. “The range of applications is growing fast, but at the same time, the industry is very much in its infancy, and there are a number of key obstacles to overcome before large-scale commercialisation is achieved. ISO 21384-3 will help resolve those challenges through providing an airworthiness framework for the global UAS industry, allowing for safer and more widespread use.”


Robert Garbett, Convenor of the ISO Working Group responsible for global air drone operational Standards, is Chairman of the BSI Committee for UK Drone Standards and founder of Drone Major Group, a consultancy. He said: “I am delighted that the operating standards for air drones have now been approved and published. This success follows four years of collaboration involving ISO, BSI and other national standards bodies from all over the world, reinforced through expert input from a wide range of industry and public sector stakeholders. The Standards will deliver a new confidence among investors in the safety, security and compliance of commercial drone operations, which together with the Product Manufacture and Maintenance Standards, is expected in turn to facilitate a massive expansion in the availability and use of drone technology in the years to come.”

“Drones are a transformative global phenomenon, offering an unprecedented economic opportunity for those businesses and countries with the foresight to embrace this technology. My own conversations with Government, businesses and other stakeholders have shown that the new Standards will be enthusiastically welcomed and will empower organisations to discover how they can use drone technology to enhance their competitive position, adding value and creating growth and jobs.”

Key to the standards is air safety, as at the forefront of public attention about airports and other sensitive locations. The new standards promotes an ‘etiquette’ for drone use that reinforces compliance towards no-fly zones, local regulation, flight log protocols, maintenance, training and flight planning documentation. The ISO speaks also of social responsibility; the responsible use of a technology that aims to improve and not disrupt everyday life. The ISO points to rapid development of geo-fencing and counter-drone technology, providing protection against ‘rogue’ drone operators.

Privacy and data protection

The standards also seek to address public concerns about privacy and data protection, demanding that operators must have appropriate systems to handle data alongside communications and control planning when flying. The hardware and software of all related operating equipment must also be kept up to date. A fail-safe of human intervention is required for drone flights, including autonomous operations, ensuring that drone operators are held accountable.

Picture by Mark Rowe; counter-drone signage, London Docklands, across the water from London City Airport.


As defined by the British Standards Institution (BSI), a drone is any vehicle, ship, aircraft, or hybrid system which is remotely or autonomously controlled. This includes driverless cars, pilotless aircraft, satellites, spacecraft, underwater ROVs, marine surface vehicles and hybrid systems which are breaking down environmental barriers by operating between land, sea and air or in all three.


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