Drones have paved the way for a number of incredible applications over the past year or so, and as we become more familiar with the boundaries, limitations and capabilities of these vehicles we are able to explore new uses in a wide range of industries. However, just as drones are now helping to save lives, grow crops, protect endangered wildlife and a whole host of other great accomplishments, they can also pose a number of risks to commercial aviation. In order for the industry to move forward and realise its full potential, these risks must be identified and steps must be made to ensure safety so that drones and commercial aviation can operate together effectively. So what are the risks?
Safety risks to commercial aviation occur when an incident is caused due to a drone operating in the vicinity of an airport. There have been a number of reported incidents of this nature making national news stories. For example, last November a passenger aircraft avoided a near-collision with London's famous skyscraper, The Shard, due to a drone that was said to have flown near the plane’s wing and horizontal stabiliser, causing a disruption to standard flight. Although no incident occurred, the need to address these risks is clear.
Whenever there is intent or willful interference with aircraft or airport operation, the risk becomes a security risk. A rising concern is a potential threat of using drones to gather intelligence (for malicious purposes), as well as the potential threat of a drone carrying and delivering explosives. Cyber threats and hazards fall under this category, as well as any use of a drone to deliberately endanger aircraft or airports.
Access to airspace
With drones flying in the same airspace as commercial aircraft, this poses some challenges to overcome. There is potential for enhanced separation standards to be applied to UAV operations. However, this could have negative consequences related to airspace efficiency, capacity and restricted areas to accommodate UAVs. Any UAVs used must be compatible with established Air Traffic Management procedures or communication, navigation and surveillance requirements. If this were to be put in place, there is a risk to existing airspace users with the introduction of UAV into or near the established airspace structure, which must also be addressed.
Effect on the aviation spectrum
The increasing use of aviation frequency spectrum needed to support drone operations should not limit the future need for the spectrum for manned aircraft. But the performance of the C2 Link for UAVs need to accommodate all ATM requirements, similar to those for manned aircraft.
There is some risk associated with using not-protected frequency spectrum for drone operations.
Legislation and regulation
At the moment, there is a lack of harmonised international standards and concepts of operations for drone operations. More and more there is a need for harmonisation, data drives, and enforceable regulations.
The drone industry is moving at a faster pace than the standards development process under International Civil Authority Organisation (ICAO), making it difficult for such regulations to come into effect.
Like the introduction of any new technology, the early days are somewhat of a challenge for the industry it is in, as it must adapt and reach ‘common ground’ within its sector before it can become fully integrated. To ensure safety, the standardised concepts above must be established and then knowledge of it must be spread to all those operating both drones and aircraft.
While such guidelines are being established, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has recently released a Drone Code website, helping all users to understand the current laws surrounding drones in the UK.
At Consortiq we are committed to helping the industry thrive, offering consultancy, training and practical assistance to implement the safe and effective use of a drone within any organisation. Learn more about our services online.