Passenger numbers in the UK have increased by 20% in the last five years, with 268 million travellers passing through country’s airports in 2018, and the government predicts that this number will increase to 410 million by 2050.
In light of this, more than ever before the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) needs to ensure that it can safely and sustainably accommodate this drastic increase in flights, without significant delays and cancellations, providing the connectivity for an open and global Britain.
Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones, are also operating in this airspace – and in increasing numbers.
These drones are already serving local communities in countless ways, including public safety and law enforcement, power line inspections by utility companies, and even saving lives in disaster recovery efforts.
On December 17, 2018, the UK’s government gave the green light to change its airspace regulations for the first time since 1950, in part to accommodate UAV flights at scale. And in 2019, we will see other countries across Europe follow suit to enable the future of flight across the globe.
Over the course of the past year, AirMap has identified four key trends that will impact airspace in 2019.
Trend #1: Basics Are Not Enough
Since the launch of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 107 remote pilot certifications in the United States, we’ve seen countries around the world start with basic safety rules.
With more awareness around 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 and requirements to register all drones, as well as their responsible operator, and pilots in a national registration system.
As technology advances, we’ll see drones that can fly farther, in swarms, and in places previously thought impossible.
Advanced commercial opportunities overwhelmingly require more regulations than today’s basic rules enable. Yet, without enabling regulations for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), night time, flights over people, or electronic identification, countries will face the same stalled environment that has for years plagued even the most progressive drone economies.
Trend #2: Permission-Based Access to Airspace Continues to Build Towards Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM)
Countries around the world are beginning to recognise the benefits of opening airspace through more streamlined forms of authorisation.
Permission-based access to airspace allows regulators to open airspace that would otherwise be closed to certain operators who have not met specific requirements or operational parameters. For example, the FAA Low-Altitude Authorisation and Notification Capability Program (LAANC) allows Part 107 operators who have passed a knowledge test and are flying drones less than 55 pounds in weight to submit digital requests for authorisation to fly in controlled airspace.
What previously was often a months-long process now has commercial operations approved in a matter of seconds.
As the rules around Remote ID are finalised in the United States, and registration increases in other countries, permission to access restricted airspace will follow the LAANC model and become increasingly automated and even safer.
Trend #3: Increased Focus on Risk-based, Performance Authorization Will Lead to Advanced Operations
Countries are shifting towards digital authorisation, led by the FAA and LAANC. We expect to see more authorities experiment with standardising their waivers process for complex operations, accelerating the timeline for new commercial models.
The Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS) Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) model currently in development for widespread adoption creates a framework to systematically and consistently evaluate the risks of particular drone missions. This will give regulators and air traffic controllers an unprecedented ability to quantify and specifically describe the risk a particular mission may entail.
The SORA approach analyses the overall complexity of UAS operations, along with various risk mitigations. This allows UAS Traffic Management (UTM) platforms to ingest risk-based data sets and provide a consistent framework for authorities to implement more automated authorisations of drone flights.
Switzerland has already been using a risk-based model to support hundreds of safe drone operations, including BVLOS deliveries in urban environments.
We expect other countries, including the United States, China, and EU member states, to continue exploring the use of SORA and UTM to pave the way for risk-based authorisations of advanced operations.
Trend #4: Increased Collaboration Across All Levels of Government
Collaboration across all 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 to increase as countries with intra-government collaboration see the accelerated opportunities for complex operations.
Truly high-volume drone operations can only happen when local authorities are involved as stakeholders because they are closest to the complexity of low-altitude airspace. This makes them essential partners for safe drone integration.
By necessity, local law enforcement will increasingly engage in enforcing the rules around flying drones. By providing controlled access to information regarding the identity of operators, as well 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.
• Bill Goodwin is General Counsel at AirMap