A revolution in autonomous flying technology is about to take place in the aviation and aerospace industries. By transporting heavy items to difficult-to-reach locations, the larger drones of tomorrow will revolutionise sectors such as construction and retail. Today’s drones are utilised for duties like inspecting rails or power lines and assessing wildfires, and they could reduce traffic congestion and urban pollution in less than ten years. But how do we manage the risks associated with the technology, and why is drone inspection a must?
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), sometimes known as drones, are aircraft that can be flown autonomously or remotely controlled by a pilot using automation systems or preprogrammed flight paths. This technology is being used by a wide range of businesses and institutions, including the military, the government, the private sector, and leisure users.
As drone technology develops, these aircraft are becoming more widespread and reasonably priced, sparking discussions that compare their advantages to brand-new ethical and legal concerns. As a result, the choices made deliberating the advantages and disadvantages of drones and UAVs can significantly affect the public and private sectors.
Despite the business community’s frustration with a cautious approach to drones, the first fatal accident might get in the way of adopting drone technology for commercial usage. A drone revolution will, therefore, require new legislation and technological advancements to improve operational safety.
Thorough drone inspection is also a must before a UAV is released on the market. It stands to reason that the risks, particularly those posed by larger drones, must be identified, and mitigation plans must be put in place.
Where do we stand today?
While employing drones has many benefits, there are also some perceived drawbacks to their use. These issues are crucial to take into account during drone inspection, especially in light of the variety of situations in which drones may be utilised.
Since the use of unmanned aerial vehicles is still on the rise, legislation is gradually catching up. There are still some grey areas in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) guidelines regarding tiny, unmanned aircraft used for commercial and recreational purposes. Some open questions are how to define airspace property rights and safeguard landowners from aircraft trespassing. Conflicts between state and municipal laws and federal rules contribute to the complexity.
Health and safety standards
When working with unmanned aerial vehicles, safety comes first. UAVs must be programmed with “detect and avoid” capabilities that are comparable to those of manned aircraft to prevent mid-air collisions, and these should be tested during drone inspection. Therefore, drones must recognise probable collisions and steer clear of them.
Should a system failure occur, crashing drones pose a significant risk, particularly when they are employed close to densely populated regions or among huge crowds. Thus, drone inspection should be a standardised and strictly regulated process that takes place before drones are employed.
The scale of drones is a different concern that global policymakers must take into account. Even though sensor technologies and video on smaller UAS have a lot of interesting applications, drones will probably need to weigh much more than 55 pounds to be of any significant commercial or logistical utility. However, it would not be appropriate from the perspective of public health and safety standards to simply lift that restriction without taking into account and minimising the risks associated with large drones.
Small, battery-powered drones pose little risk if they fall from the sky, especially since they are prohibited from flying over populous areas, but once large UAS start to fly far distances and use fuel, that will drastically change. Thus, health and safety standards and the means of drone inspection should be adjusted to the rapidly changing drone market.
Privacy is one of the main issues the general public has with UAVs. Since drones can gather information, some Americans worry that their Fourth Amendment right to privacy may be in peril. This could happen if authorities used drones to observe citizens. The Fourth Amendment’s interpretation, as well as the work of privacy rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will continue to impact how the matter of privacy is dealt with.
For both large and tiny drones, the danger of cyberterrorism must be taken into account. Drones and their control systems are susceptible to hacking, just like any other digital system, and policymakers will need to include requirements for IT security and redundancy in any certification standards to lessen the hackability of drones. Thus, drone inspection should always make sure drones are equipped with the highest possible standard of anti-hacking technology.
Airworthiness in transportation
Additionally, there is the inescapable issue of using drones for human transportation. As urban areas grow and ground congestion worsens, the economic case for pilotless air taxis is becoming more compelling. This concept is also eagerly pursued by companies. However, a large drone carrying one or two passengers would significantly increase the risk of accidents and would require extensive drone inspection before its market release.
There are roughly 50 prototypes of these air taxis today, and creating an all-electric, vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that can transport people is not difficult. However, it would be essential to adjust drone design criteria and drone inspection should resemble that employed in the case of commercial aviation, where a system failure is tolerable per one billion hours of flight. Larger drones may present issues with airworthiness that go much beyond the norms used by drone hobbyists in the consumer electronics industry.
The history of urban helicopter commuting offers insight into the potential uproar after mishaps. A helicopter landing on the heliport of the 59-story Pan Am Building in midtown Manhattan in 1977 overturned, killing a pedestrian and four passengers waiting to board. The accident rendered the operator insolvent, caused the helipad to close, and effectively ended extensive urban helicopter transportation.
The Drone Act
In America, the Drone Act of 2022 was introduced, which would make it illegal to utilise drones in dangerous situations. The Drone Act of 2022 would make it illegal to attach weapons to drones, remove their identification tags and collision avoidance lights, and use drones to obstruct the work of emergency responders, military personnel, or law enforcement.
The four lawmakers who wrote the legislation claimed that a criminal penalty is necessary to safeguard American citizens’ safety and security from the risks brought on by the improper use of unmanned technology. Under this measure, anyone found guilty of using a drone to smuggle contraband into a prison would be sentenced to ten years in prison.
European drone regulation
The European Union has played a key role in developing a comprehensive drone regulatory framework, a unified European regulation for its 27 Member States, successfully contributing to the development of this promising sector.
Under the new Basic Regulation adopted in 2018, all drones, irrespective of their weight are subject to the Union harmonised safety rules. Based on those essential safety requirements and following the risk-based operation-centric approach embedded in the Basic Regulation, the Commission adopted a series of rules regulating drone inspection and operations with drones.
To ensure the safety of drone operations in airspace, the Commission adopted three Implementing Regulations on U-space15, which provide an air traffic management system for drones. These rules are the cornerstone of the new European regulation, facilitating the development of the drone industry and the drone services market.