Drone Deliveries on the Horizon for 2019
An overhaul of UK drone legislation and advances in new technology could see drones making Amazon-style deliveries by 2019.
Currently legislation requires drone operators to fly within the line of sight, meaning they have to be able to physically see their drone. If their view of the drone is obstructed, they are violating the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Drone Code.
Recently, the National Air Traffic Control Service and NATS have said that it will allow drones to be flown beyond the line of sight. Along with the development of new technology, which allows the tracking of small unmanned devices at low altitude means drones would, potentially, be able to safely share Britain’s airspace with conventional aircraft.
This new technology is also likely to cut down on the number of near-misses, a figure which is on the rise due to the soaring popularity of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Last year more than 100 incidents involving drones close to airports were reported, an all-time high.
Andy Sage, head of drones at NATS told The Times: “This is about being able to transmit a drone’s location or intended flight to allow it to be seen. It would be a critical component in moving away from line of sight operations to begin operating beyond the line of sight.
“Without this sort of solution, it would be very difficult for commercial drone operators to come to the UK and undertake more complex operations safely in our busy airspace. This is an important step. The system will not enable full integration [of drones and aircraft] in itself but it is a necessary pre-requisite for these types of services.”
Mike Danby, CEO at Advanced Supply Chain Group, told The Evening Standard: “While it’s interesting to hear that drones will safely share airspace with conventional aircraft, there’s still some way to go before we see Amazon-style deliveries landing on doorsteps – there are countless issues to first overcome, particularly around infrastructure, privacy and security and avoiding interference with the package.
“Regulations around the flight of the drone itself is perhaps one of the more straightforward challenges in making this a reality.”
“However, that being said, this type of ingenuity, however futuristic, will almost certainly lead to new, workable solutions that will revolutionise the supply chain – that needs to happen more quickly if supply chain systems and capabilities are to keep pace with continued innovation in e-commerce.”
“There are countless issues to first overcome, particularly around infrastructure, privacy and security, and avoiding interference with the package.”
Drone Bill to Get its Second Reading in House of Commons
As drones become popular there is a demand for a clearer framework to govern the purchase and use of drones weighing more than five kilograms. The Drone Bill which is set to be published in Spring 2018 will give police officers the right to ground drones when necessary and to seize drone parts to prove it has been used to commit an offence.
Baroness Sugg, Aviation Minister has said of the new laws: “Under our new laws, users of all but the very smallest drones will need to take an online safety awareness test before they take to the skies. Similar to a driving theory test, the drone test will assess users’ knowledge of the rules, and make sure they are able to fly safely.”
“When new drone users have passed their test, both they and their drones will be registered as safe to fly. Thanks to this registration system, owners of drones that are being misused will be traceable by police. And, under laws we’ll be proposing to Parliament soon, we will also give police the right to search for, and seize, a drone, where there is a reasonable belief that a crime is taking place.”
More Than Just a Safety Issue
Beyond the safety issue raised by the potential of unmanned drone deliveries flying out of the line of sight of its operator, there are other factors that need to be considered. Solar bursts (which scramble the GPS), electronic hi-jacking by criminals and electronic swamping of the transmitter are all things that can and do occur. No matter how careful you are with a drone you do run the risk of a catastrophic failure when you take to the sky, which is why commercial drone operators are held to extremely high standards of safety by the CAA.
While some drones are water-resistant most are not and are highly dependent on weather conditions for safe flights. Wind, rain, snow and fog can do real damage to the drone’s electronics which could entirely disable its safety protocols, such as the return to base feature. A strong gust of wind could send the drone drastically off course or into a building. Until these questions are sufficiently answered it is unlikely that, in all good conscience, drone deliveries will get the green light.