Strategies to Improve the Social Acceptability of Drones

Addressing the barriers preventing drones from being accepted as an emerging technology

This executive summary lays out highlights from the report Strategies to Improve the Social Acceptability of Drones, written by Max Bell School Master of Public Policy students as part of the 2021 Policy Lab.

Access the summary and presentation below, and read their full report here.

This report has been prepared by a team of Master of Public Policy students at the Max Bell School of Public Policy, McGill University to assist Transport Canada’s efforts to better understand and improve the social acceptability of civil and commercial drone operations in Canada.

Drones are a rapidly evolving sector of emerging technology and have the potential to generate significant economic and social opportunities. At the same time, as new technological innovations evolve and the industry grows, drones will become increasingly commonplace in the everyday lives of Canadians, and will present new regulatory, legal, and social challenges. As such, the wellbeing and interests of the public are central to ensuring that Canada can leverage the benefits of the technology while mitigating any possible risks.

The following report aims to identify the principal barriers to public acceptability among the Canadian public, including both members of the drone industry and non-users. Our findings are based on interviews and extensive research and build on existing research about the friction between emerging technologies and public acceptability.

Summary of Findings

Being an emerging technology, drones are facing several barriers to take root in society. We found three factors are key to improving social acceptability, which include highlighting opportunities presented by the technology, managing real and perceived risks, and raising awareness. Communicating not only the opportunities and risks that drones bring, but also building how people perceive them will be the key to increasing the social importance of drones. The report explores public attitudes and offers corresponding policy recommendations divided into five main issue areas, which include Privacy, Emerging Technology, Safety and Security, Noise Pollution, and Public Outreach. The recommendations include measures Transport Canada can take independently, as well as a number of action items that can be completed in partnership with industry members, local governments, and the public.

  1. Privacy: Drones are a relatively new and rapidly developing technology with the capacity to capture a wide range of data and operate in previously inaccessible airspace. As such, privacy concerns are top-of-mind for many in the Canadian public. Our recommendations focus on promoting transparency, accountability, and mechanisms for recourse within the drone sector, and also involve partnerships with law enforcement and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to promote cross-sector collaboration on privacy issues.
  2. Emerging Technology: Emerging technology refers to the social impacts of rapidly developing technologies, which can disproportionately impact some groups. In this section, we detail the implications of drones for several equality-seeking groups, including women, Indigenous people, and persons with disabilities, as well as the social and public acceptability implications of future developments in the technology. Our recommendations include technical, regulatory, and socially oriented solutions to mitigate potential harms and maximize the benefits of drones for these groups.
  3. Safety and Security: Safety and security is one fundamental issue that needs to be considered as drones become widely used. While the safety of drones is improving as the airframe control and operability enhances, there are some risks associated with air safety, ground safety, criminal use, and inappropriate use. Also, public perception that is movable with several accidents need to be addressed as well as risk itself. Our recommendations involve everything from short-term actions to long-term investments to mitigate risk and improve public awareness.
  4. Noise Pollution: Noise pollution from drones is a significant barrier to public acceptability, as aviation noise can impact quality of life, and can also be a catalyst for other public acceptability concerns. We draw on existing data regarding civil aviation noise and expert knowledge of acoustics to offer regulatory recommendations aimed at curbing public disturbance, including recommended flight paths and operating time periods, as well as a socially oriented approach to mitigating noise pollution concerns through community outreach and relationship-building.
  5. Public Outreach: While familiarity with the technology is increasing, public awareness of drones and the versatility of their applications continues to be limited. Our final set of recommendations aims to build on TC’s outreach and communications strategy, with ideas for public outreach campaigns and suggestions of opportunities to link TC’s messaging to broader themes to increase awareness and public acceptability.

Download the full version of this report here.

This Policy Lab was presented by our MPPs on July 16, 2021. Watch the video below:

About the authors

Raphaela Chakravarti

MPP Class of 2021

Seira Iwai

MPP Class of 2021

Suhara Wijewardane

MPP Class of 2021



See the rest of the Policy Lab reports


Back to top