Everything you need to know about drones in 2019
IN THE past five years, the drones industry has seen remarkable growth around the world, with both the public and private sectors increasingly utilising unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in countless ways.
Whether to improve public safety surveillance in law enforcement matters, power line inspections by utility companies – or even saving lives in disaster recovery missions – the list of uses for drones is rapidly growing, observes Bill Goodwin (right), head of legal and policy at AirMap, a company which creates global airspace management platforms for drones.
A good example is in Rwanda where, thanks to Zipline, more than 50 per cent of blood delivery is now performed by drones. Elsewhere, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and global security company Northrop Grumman, are looking at how they will be able to use drones to track storms and hurricanes in the near future.
Other industries are also turning to drones to improve operational processes, including construction, mining, public safety and infrastructure. Amazon, which operates air cargo flights with its airline Prime Air, expects drones to deliver its individual packages within 30 minutes of ordering in the future. The company has already established commercial drone delivery centres in five countries.
By the end of 2018, there should be around 10 million drones in use across the world, a 250 per cent increase since 2016. This exponential growth is testing the limits of traditional air traffic management systems to safely integrate drones into the airspace.
However, the challenges of their safe integration will only multiply as drones perform more complex operations which reach beyond visual line-of-sight perimeters. Autonomous drones, for example, which fly beyond the horizon, or in urban environments, will need a dynamic link to airspace authorities as well as other aircraft, manned and unmanned.
London’s Gatwick Airport, which had to be closed between 19 and 21 December after 67 reported drone sightings in its airspace, suffered the cancellation of 1,000 flights, with more than 140,000 passengers affected. As a direct result, the UK’s military services, including the Royal Air Force Regiment, had to be deployed by the British government.
Goodwin stresses that drone operators need education and the tools that are easy to use and embedded in the technology they already have (for example, smartphone, drone, laptop) to know if they are safe to fly in certain areas, and to discover how they can obtain authorised access to sensitive airspace areas such as around airports. “These automated tools already exist to ensure that drones can operate safely and without risk to manned aviation, and regulators have an opportunity to embrace them,” he points out.
In order to ensure safe drone operations, drone operators and airspace controllers will need to collectively implement new methodologies to evaluate and mitigate potential risks on the ground and in the sky, especially with regard to complex missions.
Right now, civil aviation authorities (CAAs), air navigation service providers (ANSPs), and local authorities around the world are working to enable safe and secure access to low-altitude airspace for drones. “Last year, we saw countries from all over the world launching projects to help further improve their airspace infrastructure management. Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Japan, the United States and others, have already launched projects to improve safety and connectivity for beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations which are often used by enterprises and public safety organisations,” Goodwin states.
This development is being made possible only through close work with regulators around the world in finding ways to ensure mitigation of the risks of advanced operations and thereby safely integrating drones into the airspace through rulemaking, the development of minimum standards and risk-modelling.
“Over the course of 2018, we have identified four key trends among global regulatory authorities that we expect to increase in 2019,” the AirMap legal director reveals. They are:
Trend 1: Basics Are Not Enough
Since the launch of Part 107, the US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) rules for small, unmanned aircraft operations, including commercial and government uses for drones weighing less than 55 pounds, we’ve seen other countries around the world start with their own basic safety rules. However, we have also observed that what’s possible with technology almost immediately outstrips those rules.
With more awareness of the potential challenges of managing fast-growing drone activities in low altitude airspace, this year we expect to see the continuing increase in countries adopting basic safety regulations. Primarily, these rules relate to basic Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) operations under a national registration system – as well as requirements to register all drones and their responsible operator owner and pilots.
Also, as technology advances, we’ll see drones that can fly farther, in swarms, and to places previously thought impossible. Advanced commercial opportunities overwhelmingly require something more than that which basic rules can enable. This trend has been growing in recent years, but will be a front and centre issue across nearly every country with drone regulations over the course of 2019.Yet, without enabling regulations for BVLOS, night time flights over people, or electronic identification, countries around the world will face the same stalled environment that has plagued even the most progressive drone economies for years.
That is why expanded commercial operations of drones will continue to be delayed. Without enabling the necessary regulations, businesses won’t be able to take full advantage of the untold potential economies and societal benefits of drones.
Trend 2: Permission-based access to airspace continues to build towards Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM)
Countries around the world are gradually beginning to recognise the likely benefits of opening up their airspace to easier forms of authorisation. Permission-based access to airspace allows regulators to open their airspace that would otherwise be closed off to certain operators who already satisfy specific requirements or operational parameters.
For example, the FAA’s Low-Altitude Authorisation and Notification Capability (LAANC) Programme allows Part 107 operators who have passed a knowledge test and are flying drones weighing less than 55 pounds, to submit digital requests for authorisation to fly in controlled airspace. What previously was often a months’-long process has now become a matter of seconds for approval of such a commercial operation.
As the rules around Remote ID are finalised in the United States, and registration increases in other countries, permission to access airspace will be increasingly automated and even safer.
Trend 3: The benefits of increased focus on risk-based, performance authorisation will lead to more advanced operations
Led by the FAA and LAANC initiatives, drone-focused countries are now shifting towards digital authorisation. This year, we expect to see more authorities experimenting with the standardisation of their waivers process for complex operations. This will accelerate the timeline for new commercial models.
The Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) model – which is being developed and considered for widespread adoption – has created a framework that systematically and consistently evaluates the risks of particular drone missions. In other words, it gives regulators and air traffic controllers an unprecedented ability to quantify and specifically describe the risk that any particular mission may entail.
The SORA system analyses the overall complexity of unmanned aerial system (UAS) operations along with various risk mitigations, allowing Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) platforms to ingest risk-based data sets and thereby provide a consistent framework for the authorities to implement more automated authorisations of drone flights.
For the past two years, Switzerland has been using such a risk-based model to allow dozens of drone operations, including BVLOS deliveries in urban environments, with no accidents to date. “Throughout 2019, we expect other countries, including the United States, China, and EU member states, to continue exploring the use of SORA and UTM to incrementally pave the way for risk-based authorisations of advanced operations,” Goodwin adds.
Trend 4: Increased collaboration across all levels of government
Drones have transformed the way that aviation interacts with communities. Countries have struggled in recent years to assign responsibility for both making and enforcing rules relating to drone operations. What emerged as a concept in 2018, will become a mainstream trend in 2019: that collaboration across the levels of government is essential for a healthy drone ecosystem to emerge and grow at the pace of what is technologically possible.
“We expect this increase because countries that have intra-government collaboration see accelerated opportunities for complex operations. Truly high-volume drone operations can only happen when local authorities are involved as partners, because they are closest to the complexity of low-altitude airspace, making them essential partners for safe drone integration,” he adds.
Meanwhile, further developments in technology, particularly regarding UTM, will facilitate an unprecedented level of coordination between different levels of government, thus opening up more low-altitude airspace for drones. By necessity, local law enforcement will increasingly engage in enforcing the rules around flying drones, just as local governments are always the first to hear community concerns relating to privacy, safety, and community impact.
By providing controlled access to information regarding the identity of operators, as well as the needs and concerns of the communities where drones are operating, UTM infrastructures and services will be key enablers for greater and more complex commercial operations.