Assessing the risks of drones and unmanned aerial systems

UAS risk management threats and opportunities

Drones, also referred to as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), encompass both the unmanned vehicle itself along with the ground-based controller and the system connecting the two. Today the uses and applications of UAS are increasing and diversifying. This expansion is enabled by technological advances, policy changes, and significant cost reduction in parts and manufacturing.

About the UAS report

This paper places UAS risk and its associated mitigation strategies in the broader context of the UAS ecosystem. It also offers techniques for organizations to update existing risk management strategies, as well as enable the development of new ones to proactively address increasing UAS risk, both as a user and as an organization seeking to confront threats, challenges, and circumstances posed by other UAS users.

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What are the risks associated with UAS?

There are myriad ways to look at risk and risk management, evidenced by the various definitions used by sources of authority on the topic.

Generally, the types of risks fall into one of three buckets—hazard/threat risk, control risk, and opportunity risk. The primary focus area looking at UAS risk in the current state of the UAS ecosystem is the uncertainty associated with managing the threat level associated with UAS. This could come from either malicious actors—who see the threat potential of UAS and exploit them for nefarious purposes or commercial gain—or unintentional actors, who pose a hazard to infrastructure.

The bottom line is that risk creates uncertainty, and risk management is an integral part of organizations that seek to "protect people, equipment, and other resources while making the most effective use of them."1 Given the current state and maturity of the UAS ecosystem, greater emphasis is placed on the threats that UAS pose to an organization, and how to develop an approach to mitigate their associated risks.

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Before an organization can develop a risk management strategy, it should consider the various types of UAS risk, and prioritize which type is most critical to evaluate and proactively manage.

Tailored UAS risk solutions

UAS risks create the need for customizable solutions to proactively protect assets and quickly respond to an entity’s unique threats and opportunities.

Building on this foundational understanding of UAS threats, risk managers and those charged with protecting physical assets and managing the operations of UAS should choose a risk-intelligent management approach that best fits their unique circumstances and needs. The solutions described below are not meant to serve as an exhaustive list, but rather describes some of the most applicable UAS risk management solutions for a broad range of sectors.

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The impact of UAS risk

As UAS proliferation continues, risk management professionals tasked with managing the safety and security of their organization’s assets and personnel will face an increasingly complex risk environment.

The responsibility of analyzing and mitigating risks extends beyond a single agency or entity—it requires an ecosystem approach. A collective effort is necessary to support the adoption of this new technology, taking into account emerging and future UAS applications, implications, and risks. Considering the proliferation of UAS operations and advances in technology, both the risk and the opportunities from UAS will continue to grow.

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Learn more about Deloitte’s Drone Services

Drone Services helps public and private sector clients understand, define, and operationalize innovative drone strategies based on leading practices.

Learn more about Drone Services.


Meet the team

Peter Liu

Peter is a managing director and leads Deloitte’s Drone Services team. Formerly a technology startup entrepreneur, he has more than 20 years of experience in technology strategy and program management. His expertise includes program management of large contracts, technology scouting, mission capability development, and innovation incubation. He is also a leader of Deloitte Systems Engineering practice and leads programs with over 200+ practitioners across his portfolio.
Christopher Hewlett

Christopher is a specialist leader for Drone Services, delivering UAS strategy, implementation, and analytics to commercial, federal, state and local clients. He is a former qualified naval aviator in both manned and unmanned aircraft. He spent 21 years in various roles within the Navy and still holds a security clearance. His former roles in the Navy consisted of command, technical management, operations, and advising. He possesses a depth of experience in strategic goal establishment, safely driving operational excellence, and project delivery. His command experience in the Navy was to guide the creation of a new helicopter squadron, which established the first dual platform unit, integrated with a combination of 25 manned aircraft and UAVs. His experience in resource management, emerging trends, technical requirements, and stakeholder management were groundbreaking for safety programs and the development of unmanned systems for the Navy. He graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry.
Sevan Mehrabian

Sevan is the Federal Government and Public Sector lead for Drone Services. He brings more than 10 years of experience leading and implementing technology, innovation, and analytics projects for federal clients.
Mathew Rommel

Mathew is the commercial lead for Drone Services. He brings deep subject matter experience in unmanned aircraft system strategy, operations, logistics, and scaling. As the commercial market leader, Mathew understands the unique needs of clients in various industries including energy, construction, agriculture, infrastructure, and healthcare.
Nicholas Buck

Nicholas is the solutions leader for Drone Services and advises on enabling capabilities for UAS integration, such as software, hardware, data analytics, data security, process design, solution architecture development, and visualization. Nick leads the development of capabilities and solutions to enable tailored delivery across program markets and opportunities.

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