A new survey commissioned by the RAeS asked the general public a number of questions relating to the use of drones in the UK. The online survey, which was carried out by research consultancy ComRes on behalf of the RAeS, interviewed 2,043 British adults between 11-12 May 2016.


 


The survey questioned over 2,000 people in the UK on their view of drone operations (RAeS/ComRes)

A new survey commissioned by the RAeS asked the general public a number of questions relating to the use of drones in the UK. The online survey, which was carried out by research consultancy ComRes on behalf of the RAeS, interviewed 2,043 British adults between 11-12 May 2016.

Participants were first asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the following six statements: 

  1. The rules on the use of drones when breached should be more tightly enforced than is the case at the moment.

  2. I am less worried about the commercial use of drones than the private use of drones.

  3. Drones pose more of a safety risk than radio-controlled aircraft which have been around for years.

  4. Drones can make an important contribution to the UK economy and society.

  5. Overall, drones pose more risks than opportunities for the U.K

  6. I have a good understanding of the rules and regulations governing the use of drones in the UK

    .

Of the respondents, 76% agreed that drone rules should be more strictly enforced, although 69% admitted that they did not have a good understanding of what the rules were. A total of 62% were less worried about the commercial use of UAVs compared to private use while 58% considered drones posed more of a risk that radio-controlled aircraft. As to the contribution of drones to the UK economy, respondents were split more evenly with 46% positive vs 33% negative with 28% unsure. The split was more even with regard to the potential risks from drones with 33% thinking that drones offered opportunities for the UK, 46% saying that they posed more risks and 27% offering no opinion.

The survey also found that younger adults were more positive than older British adults about the contribution of drones to the UK economy and society [18-24 (53%), 35-44 (56%) and 65+ (39%)]. Respondents aged over 65 were also much keener on drone rules being enforced [18-24 (57%), 65+ (90%)].

Drone use

A commercial drone being used to inspect a wind turbine. (Skeye)

The survey also looked at the public’s support for the use of drones in different applications, including emergency response, environmental conservation, police surveillance, infrastructure management, agriculture, military drone testing, professional photography and journalism, leisure activities, logistics and passenger transport. Of these varied activities, support was greatest for the first six activities, starting from 91% support for emergency response down to 73% for military testing and training. Support for professional photography was more mixed (59% for, 30% against) but the last three activities did not meet with general approval (leisure use 37% for vs 52% against, logistics 32% for and 51% against while UAVs used to carry people only received 22% support compared to 59% against and 19% undecided). Once again there was a split between the older and younger generations, with 56% of 18-24 year olds supporting the use of drones for leisure activities; compared to only 20% of the over 65s.

Drone use concerns

79% of the survey participants were concerned over the issue of drone user  traceability. (Parrot)

The third part of the survey looked at public concerns over the use of drones with regards to the difficulty of tracing operators, invasions of privacy, personal and public safety, national security, commercial sensitivity and noise. Of these, operator traceability was the biggest concern (79% concerned vs 15% not) while the majority were not worried about noise (36% concerned vs 56% not). Privacy, safety and national security were all major concerns (75%, 74% and 65%, respectively) while the risk of commercial businesses being spied on by drones only concerned 57% of those surveyed, compared to 36% who were not). Once again, older respondees were more concerned about drone use (92% of over 65s expressing concerns over operator traceability compared to only 62% of 18-24 year olds).

Protecting the public interest

The public were unsure as to whether drone operators, manufacturers and regulators were doing a good job at protecting the public interest. (Parrot)

The final part of the survey canvassed public opinion over whether particular groups of drone operators, manufacturers and regulators were doing a good job at protecting the public interest with regard to drone technology. Here the public were less knowledgeable with regard to how certain bodies of drone users protected the public with the ‘Don’t Know’ response being in the majority in several categories. Opinions on the police was almost equally split (33% good job, 29% poor job and 37% don’t know). Regulators received a similar split (33% good, 30% bad, 37% don’t know). As to the media, only 22% approved, compared to 40% against and 38% of don’t knows. Drone manufacturers came in for even more of a drubbing with 21% getting a ‘good job’ verdict, while 41% opted for ‘bad job’ and 38% were again undecided. Disapproval rose even higher against the government’s role in protecting public interest (22% good, 45% bad, 33% don’t know). However, the highest level of disapproval was reserved for drone owners and operators who only received an 17% ‘good job’ approval against 47% bad job and 35% don’t know.

Regional variations

 

In addition to age, the survey results were also broken down into male and female respondents, social grades, employment sectors and geographical location and it is an interesting exercise to see how the figures compare between the different categories. While there is no significant difference between the replies of men and women or different social grades, there are the occasional surprises, such as 62% of those working in the private sector supporting the use of drones for photography and journalism, compared to only 53% in the public sector. 41% of public sector employees thought that the police were doing a good job protecting the public interest, compared to only an approval of only 34% from those working in the private sector. Scotland and Wales had a slight difference of opinion concerning the government’s protection of public interest (49% of Scottish respondents going for the ‘poor job’ category, compared to only 37% from Wales). Respondents in the North East of England were more supportive of flying drones for fun (44% support) compared to those in South East England (30% support). However, these particular variations are not to taken too seriously, as students of statistics will remind you that quoting figures in isolation is a dangerous thing, since figures from surveys cannot be taken as being representative of the general population without taking into account the confidence in the accuracy of the sample as indicated by the accompanying standard deviation and standard error (both of which are included in the full version of the survey).

General conclusions

Returning to results from the survey as a whole, one factor that is highlighted is the general lack of public awareness of both drone regulations and their use. This mirrors the results of a public dialogue set up by the UK Department of Transport (DfT) which held a series of workshops between December and January which brought together drone users, manufacturers, regulators and the general public. The DfT workshops, which were set up with the aim of improving public awareness of drones, discovered that most of the invited members of the public didn’t know much about drones, except from what they had learned from the media. A recent conference organised by the RAeS UAS Group to explore whether registration and identification of drone operations in the UK would result in their safer operation also concluded that there is a need for public education and training in drone use (see http://www.aerosociety.com/News/Insight-Blog/4382/Drone-control). 

Drone personal transport

Chinese company Ehang has developed the Ehang 184 a one-person autonomous personal air vehicle. (Ehang)

Another conclusion to be drawn from the drone perception survey is that, when given examples of positive drone use, the respondents were mostly in favour of them - with the exception of passenger transport which is not a use that is being particularly promoted at present - although the debate continues over the feasibility of introducing pilotless passenger aircraft and prototypes are under development of autonomously piloted personal air vehicles. 

Cool reception for drone parcel delivery?

Amazon is hoping to use drones for its package delivery service (Amazon)

One surprising result was the poor level of support for drones used for logistics, such as parcel delivery, which was only supported by 32% with 51% against. This was another area where the older generation were more cautious than the young with 49% of people between 18-24 supporting logistics use with 36% against, while support from over 65s was only 19% with 68% opposed. This could mean that more needs to be done to bring the public on side to before the proposed introduction of drones for delivering parcels by online retail companies such as Amazon.

Promoting public awareness

The CAA is actively promoting increased public awareness of drone regulations. (CAA)

The poor showing for both drone manufacturers and drone regulators protecting the public interest highlights that there is still public concern that drones are being sold without adequate awareness of their safe operation. Perhaps more needs to be done to highlight the work that is being done in this direction, such as the ongoing campaign from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which is responsible for drone regulations, to raise awareness of the ruses through its Drone Aware campaign (http://publicapps.caa.co.uk/docs/33/CAP1202droneawareNov15.pdf). The European Union is also working on the DRONE-RULES.eu project to create a centralised database for RPAS (remotely piloted air systems) regulations, as well as to organise educational events to increase operator and public awareness of the rules (https://ec.europa.eu/easme/en/drone-ruleseu-rpas-rules-regulation-portal). The Association of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (ARPAS) and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), whose international membership includes operators and manufacturers, both have codes of professional conduct for their members promoting safe operation which include support for improving public awareness and education on the operation of RPAS (https://www.arpas.uk/mem-code-of-conduct/) http://www.auvsi.org/content/conduct.

The different levels of approval between age groups was also interesting, indicating that younger people are more willing to support drone operations which suggests that drones will become more accepted as time goes by. Younger people also professed to have a better understanding of drone rules with 23% of 18-24 year olds saying that they had a good understanding of the rules compared to only 12% of over 65s).

RAeS UAS Group comment

A commercial drone being used to monitor crop conditions. (AUVSL)

Commenting on the figures from the survey, Tony Henley MRAeS, Chair of the Royal Aeronautical Society Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Group, said:

“The market in civil drones is developing rapidly, driven largely by small, cheap and versatile systems with a variety of uses. The sales of small drones have skyrocketed – particularly the camera-carrying ones – and the UK is well placed to capture the economic gains from this fast-growing industry. An important means of achieving this will be the development and certification of collision-avoidance technology for beyond-line-of sign operation, vital to delivery services, that will permit the integration of drone use into existing airspace. The government has made great progress in this area thanks, in part, to progress with its regulatory framework.”

“There is understandable caution at present about the more widespread use of drones. As the number of drones increases, and with more frequent reports of incidents involving the unsafe or anti-social use of drones by irresponsible or inexperienced operators, public perceptions of the sector could take a nose-dive. Government, regulators, law enforcement and industry must continue to work closely together to increase awareness of drone use and to address these fears so the sector might flourish in a safe and responsible way. A key component of this activity should be the provision of more accessible education for leisure users, which could significantly reduce careless misuse.”

The RAeS plans to repeat this survey in 12 months’ time to see if public awareness of drones has changed and to gauge the effectiveness of education campaigns.

A detailed version of the 2016 RAeS drones perception survey can be found on http://www.comres.co.uk/polls/royal-aeronautical-society-drones-survey/

The RAeS will be holding its next conference on UAS on 3 October (http://aerosociety.com/Events/Event-List/2583/UAS-Conference)

 

 



24 June 2016