Unmanned, Remotely Piloted, or Something Else? Analysing the Terminological Dogfight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Throughout their existence, several attempts have been made at naming and categorizing aircraft which are flown without a pilot on board. Regulatory documents by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have called them unmanned and remotely piloted aircraft (systems), drones, and other less popular names. This has resulted in a risk of gaps and incoherence being introduced into the system of international aviation law. The growing field of unmanned aviation has proved difficult to encapsulate in a single term which would serve as a regulatory basis.

This article seeks to analyse the terminological dogfight between the most established terms used to regulate the aircraft in question. It presents the legal basis, meaning, implications, and relevance of each term and their mutual relationship.

The article recommends doing away with the concept of model aircraft, as it has become difficult to distinguish recreational from non-recreational use of the aircraft in question. A critical angle is taken at the concept of pilotless aircraft, employed in the Chicago Convention. The article acknowledges that both unmanned and remotely piloted aircraft are viable regulatory concepts, but preference is given to the former due to its simplicity and wide scope. The concept of a system is seen as necessary due to the distributed nature of the aircraft.
Translated title of the contributionMiehittämätön, kauko-ohjattu vai jokin muu? Katsaus käsitekamppailuun
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349–368
JournalAir & Space Law
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoEC publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • drones
  • unmanned aerial vehicles
  • rpas
  • uav
  • uas
  • ICAO
  • EASA
  • aviation
  • civil aviation
  • aviation law
  • rpa

Field of science

  • Law


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