Drone, UAV, UAS, RPA or RPAS …

drones rpas uav rpa1 - Drone, UAV, UAS, RPA or RPAS …As a fast growing market with numerous daily new opportunities, several names are currently used by people involved in this booming aeronautical sector to designate these unmanned aerial systems found in more and more areas.

Manufacturers, Public Organizations, Operators and Associations are all referring to some specific terms with slight differences contained in the definitions from one to another.

Here is an overview of the correct designations that were adopted by the major professional actors of the UAV domain, followed by the meanings of the acronyms.



UAV, condemned to disappear

UAV is the acronym of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.
Currently, when browsing the Internet looking for related articles, UAV is the most frequent term. This designation is used to define the flying object employed for recreational and professional civilian applications. Even if a common agreement seems to have been reached online, the aviation agencies of many countries have decided to go for different term than today’s UAV.



DRONE, the French way

By being the world pioneer in the creation and implementation of regulations for the use of commercial unmanned aerial vehicles, the French Directorate for Civil Aviation (DGAC) is referring to them as drones.

The French Federation of the Civil Drone and the Belgian BeUAS are also applying the same word for the most common use. In a general way, the French speaking countries are mainly using the drone term.

However, drone refers mainly to an “unmanned aircraft which is mostly used in a military context” while it is used to designate any type of aerial unmanned vehicle in the common language.

Even UAV professionals are using the appelation of drone in the day to day jargon, instead of any other official term disdaining these autonomous vehicles.


RPAS, the most formal & international way

Worldwide, the National Aviation Agencies still need to find the smoothest and safest way to share the airspace with these new flying vehicles.

Before setting the rules to apply for this cohabitation, it is necessary for these agencies to nominate and define those unmanned aircrafts that are entering the aeronautical world.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) employs the acronym RPAS (standing for Remotely Piloted Aircraft System). The definition associated is that these systems as “based on cutting-edge developments in aerospace technologies, offering advancements which are opening new and enhanced civil-commercial applications as well as improvements to the safety and efficiency of the entire civil aviation”.

The term RPAS appears to be the preferred terminology used by the international aviation-related agencies like the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Eurocontrol, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA – Australia), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA – New Zealand) and the BeUAS are following this trend.



UAS, the Anglo-Saxon exception

Despite the global international agreement on the RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) word, some American and British organizations decided to go for the UAS acronym standing for Unmanned Air/Aircraft System. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA – United Kingdom) provides a complete definition and explanation of this choice :

The terms Unmanned Aircraft (UA) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) are used to describe the aircraft itself, whereas the term Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) is generally used to describe the entire operating equipment including the aircraft, the control station from where the aircraft is operated and the wireless data link.

This UAS terminology is also exploited by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA – United States), the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association (UAVSA).

MAV, sUAS and UAV weight classifications

A general weight naming classification also exists for unmanned air vehicles UAVs. So following their mass, different names are used for UAVs:

  • MAV: from Micro Air Vehicle, for UAVs having a mass of less than 1g
  • sUAS: is the acronym of small Unmanned Aircraft System, used for UAVs weighting less than 25Kg. The letter “s” is especially written in lowercase, to accentuate the small size of these aicrafts
  • UAV: is then used for unmanned aircraft’s with a weight of more than 25Kgs


To sum up, 4 denominations are currently in service but their use depends mostly on the interlocutor. By using the correct terminology depending on the situation, you can make yourself clear faster as your vocabulary will correctly transmit your message.

These are the rules to follow in order to use the correct term:

  • French speaking: drones
  • US and UK: UAS
  • International and other National Aviation Agencies: RPAS
  • on the Internet: UAV and drones

drone water survey - Drone, UAV, UAS, RPA or RPAS …


UAV acronyms:

  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
  • Unmanned Air Vehicle
  • Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle
  • Unmanned Aerospace Vehicle
  • Uninhabited Aircraft Vehicle
  • Unmanned Airborne Vehicle
  • Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle
  • Upper Atmosphere Vehicle



Other possible acronyms:

  • UAVS: Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle System
  • RPA: Remotely Piloted Aircraft
  • UA: Unmanned Aircraft