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The Emergence of Drones

Drones–unmanned aerial vehicles– are the wave of the future; we can’t stop them because they are already here. Examples include package deliveries, healthcare functions and amateur private operators. So, proactively anticipating issues and developing strategies seems wiser than simply disputing the right of drones to share the airways. L2B members discuss some of the emerging issues.

Technology Disruptors Bring Challenges

New technology brings new concerns. When elevators were first developed, they created hysteria and had to be carefully operated by rained bellmen. Now we grab the elevator, press the buttons and don’t think twice. Computers have revolutionized the world, replacing many technologies. Yet when they first came on the scene, many expressed concerns about how they would ruin our society and turn us all into robots. Today, few of us can operate without computers in our lives. And now it’s drones.

The New Frontier

How do drones affect commercial aviation? Can they co-exisit? The short answer is that they have to.

“There is the need for more discussion, awareness and clarity on drone operations generally.  There needs to be a clear distinction between what falls under current policing laws / permits and what is actually the responsibility of the aviation authority,” said Daniel Aquilina, from Ganado Advocates in Malta.  “Some applications don’t stray far from actual aviation. Food deliveries may seem like straightforward commerce, but when flight amateurs, perhaps with no licensing or training are piloting the drones, it creates dangers including to general aviation hence the need for strict stipulated no-fly zones for drones amongst other restrictions or initiatives.”

That’s where the regulations would come into play. “Aviation authority has the monopoly on our traffic regulations currently,” Sergi Gimenez Binder, of Augusta Abogados in Spain commented. “Currently, air traffic flies high above the paths of drones, whereas drones are right above the heads of people on the ground. That in itself creates issues specific to each village and town. Should drones have to follow the cross streets laid out in cities, which could serve as transportation lanes, or can they fly at random patterns? There isn’t an established set of guidelines.

“And where do they land? They don’t use airports. They can land on someone’s terrace. Landing anywhere at any time could lead to chaos.”

Working Out The Kinks

“It’s good to be on the ground floor of developing the plans and ideas that will guide the future of drones and aviation,” said Aquillina.”  José Elías, of Del Hierro Abogados in Colombia agreed. “The future of drones and the regulations that will govern them should have input from operators, industry representatives, city government, insurance companies and attorneys as well as aircraft pilots. Everyone needs to discuss their concerns and begin talking about the best way forward.”

João Almeida, of Alves, Pereira and Teixeira de Soula RL in Portugal noted that drones still have kinks to work out and that would naturally lead to liability issues. “Driverless vehicles currently have liability issues. We’ve already seen problems with drones on the highways. Imagine the complexities involved in large-scale air travel.”

Potential Uses

“Drones have great potential use in civil sector,” noted Binder. “City gardeners can use drones to monitor their parks, and supervisors can oversee the status of projects without sending an entire crew to the site. It can save time, fuel and labor costs to check on things this way. Managing their use is the concern.”

Almeida concurred. “I’ve heard of drones monitoring crowds, especially during COVID. They can scan for body temperatures, check for crowd sizes on beaches and it can all be done without the typical privacy concerns.”

COVID Brings Challenges

Recent market changes due to COVID-19 have shown commercial aviators that budget concerns must also be considered, noted Binder.

“Drones are cheaper to operate and have fewer requirements They can simply take off and do things, where traditional aircraft have flight plans, established routes and legal restrictions to consider. But as regulations are established, these factors could change.”

Almeida noted that as airlines grapple with the impact of COVID-19– costs, automation and pilot shortages—they wonder if drones present new competition or perhaps a solution to some of these issues. “Are they good or bad for business? It’s an interesting window of opportunity with many points of view. It’s exciting to be part of the future.”

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