How Drones Are Affecting The Aviation Industry


Today, drones are flying almost everywhere. And, manufacturers are cranking out tens of thousands of drones every year for military use, movie industry, marketing, and recreational use. The technology is so disruptive that multinationals like the Amazon have started to use them to cut delivery times and improve revenues.

But, it is a “bittersweet experience” for the aviation industry. The proliferation of drones is not only good news to the industry but also a ‘thorn-in-the-flesh’ that the industry has to grapple with on a daily basis.

While businesses like Amazon and other operators are willing to play by the aviation rules for flying UAVs, you will be surprised that deadly run-ins with aircraft are becoming increasingly rampant. Pilots are reporting increasingly reporting near misses at less than 100m with a drone. One notable near-miss incidence happened on March 18, when a Los Angeles bound Lufthansa flight reported seeing a drone at about 60 m above their flying above the Airbus A380. The sheriff’s department dispatched helicopters to search for the drone. The Gatwick Airport incident also proves how rogue drones can and will continue to affect the aviation industry.

Can you imagine a swarm of 4-8 pre-programmed drones coming across the flight path of a 200 plus passenger aircraft? Imagine what would happen if the plane would suck in one of these UAVs at full power on the take of over a populated area? Unfortunately, most airports have little or no capability of handling the drone threat. Drones can be so small that airports radar systems might not detect their 1-pixel echo. Besides, the Boeing’s laser solutions proposal can only work for larger military drones. But, the technology may not work for small invisible targets in airport environments. Besides, lasers also decay ballistically – that is, their beams drop towards the ground. That would likely result in unintended consequences on buildings – both rental and commercial – and commercial aircrafts flying low behind the target.

ALPA proposes geo-fencing technology to help handle the drone mess at airports. The technology is designed such that it crashes the drones once they approach restricted area. The embed software is designed in a way that restricts altitude so that drones won't fly past the FAA recommended heights.

Here is, however, another side to the drone coin that will mesmerize you. This drone technology that was once a preserve for amateur movie buffs, the military and destination markets is also finding another use in the aviation industry. Today, airports are deploying drones for airport surveillance, monitor perimeter wall of the airport, inspect the runways, wildlife and bird control.

Besides, airlines are using drones to improve the operations in the airports, help reduce time spent on the ground for aircraft, improve safety, and also save costs. For example, EasyJet a local low-cost European carrier EasyJet, has already struck a deal with Coptercraft, to provide a robotic system that will give AR-enabled drones for aircraft inspection and maintenance. According to Ian Davies, the head of engineering at EasyJet, checks that would take the airline a day or a couple of days to perform would only take “a couple of hours” and will be performed with “greater accuracy.”

That would mean airlines would need to readjust and hire experienced remote pilots, drone operators, and data managers. Soon aviation-leaning job boards like AviationJobNet, among others, will be overflowing with new aviation job positions that never existed before.

The truth is, penetration of a UAV in civil airspace without authorization represents a potential threat to airlines and as a result, the question of what to do about the growing trend of drone utilization will remain an active conversation in the aviation industry for years.  


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