Across every industry, commercial drone operations are creating new opportunities for enterprises, SMBs, and nonprofits to innovate their business models. Drones are optimizing last-mile deliveries, transporting urgent medical supplies, inspecting oil pipelines, and improving search and rescue efforts. In many cases, drone technology has proven to be a more efficient, cost-effective solution, filling the gaps where traditional ways of doing business have fallen short.
It’s fair to say there are many benefits to launching a commercial drone operation, but where do you begin? The process can feel daunting, and understandably so. Businesses have several responsibilities to ensure their operation is safe, secure, and compliant. To name a few…
- Regulatory compliance: Commercial operators in the U.S. are required to obtain a remote pilot certificate, register their drones, and receive airspace authorization. During flight, they’re also expected to comply with Part 107 regulations unless a waiver has been approved for more advanced operations, such as flying beyond visual line of sight, at night, or over people.
- Flight operations: Commercial operators are expected to plan and execute their flights and share operational data with the UAS traffic management (UTM) ecosystem. Accurate, up-to-date flight plans are required to optimize the airspace and avoid unnecessary deconfliction.
- Aircraft deconfliction: Operators are responsible for staying on top of changes in the airspace and adapting their flights accordingly. This requires operators to monitor airspace traffic, regulatory dynamics, and local conditions, such as weather, terrain, buildings, and risks on the ground.
- Aircraft security: Businesses are responsible for protecting their commercial drone operation from both intentional acts (e.g., cyberthreats) and unintentional acts (e.g., human error, hardware malfunction), affecting people or property in the air or on the ground. This requires operators to continuously monitor their aircraft performance and detect any malicious activity.
- Contingency management: In the event of a contingency, operators are responsible for notifying authorities and affected operators of the new flight plan and emergency status until the hazard is no longer a risk. Contingencies include an active flight that is undergoing a critical equipment failure, experiencing a loss of tracking capabilities, or operating outside the bounds of their intended flight path. In case an incident occurs, commercial drone operators also need to maintain high standards of auditability by recording all flight and service logs.
What if these responsibilities weren’t so daunting? What if there was a way to simplify how businesses plan, execute, and manage their commercial drone operation?
Fortunately, technology advancements in AI and blockchain are making it possible to eliminate the manual workflows and enable safe, autonomous operations. For example, when it comes to flight operations, AI technology can analyze crucial data, such as airspace traffic, weather forecasts, ground risks, and aircraft performance, to automatically generate optimal flight paths and autonomously adapt flights as conditions change.
When it comes to regulatory compliance, blockchain can encode the airspace rules, such as flying below 400 feet during daylight hours, as mandatory parameters in a flight planning system. Businesses can also use this technology to set company-wide safety standards for their commercial drone operations, such as flying with at least 20% battery life in reserve. The approach helps automate compliance and ensures all drone operators associated with your organization are following the same rulebook.
Check out our latest eBook to learn more about automating the manual workflows. This comprehensive guide will help prepare your organization for a safe, efficient, and scalable commercial drone operation.
As drone technology advances, the use cases are evolving rapidly across the globe. Drones are supporting the COVID-19 pandemic by delivering test kits and disinfecting outdoor surfaces. They’re improving our response to hurricanes and floods by assessing damage and delivering aid to the most devastated areas. And they’re optimizing the oil and gas industry by inspecting pipelines and detecting leaks.
From retail and logistics to healthcare and energy, drone technology is disrupting a wide variety of industries and innovating old business models. But before we can realize its full potential, there are a few key challenges that must be addressed to solve unmanned traffic management (UTM) in the aviation industry at large:
- Enabling flight transparency: Real-time awareness of all unmanned flights is critical to optimize the airspace and avoid hazards that can put public safety at risk. This requires drone operators to share accurate, up-to-date flights plans with airspace authorities overseeing both manned and unmanned traffic. This becomes increasingly difficult as businesses operate a larger volume of drones to deliver packages, support emergency response, and conduct industrial inspections. We must simplify the process of sharing real-time flight data to enable better traceability and advance unmanned traffic management across the industry.
- Enforcing airspace compliance: Recent drone sightings near airports and critical infrastructure have exposed how drones can put lives at risk and cause major disruptions to operations. Due to rogue drones near the Gatwick Airport, flights were suspended for 30 hours and caused chaos for 140,000 passengers. Oftentimes, these incidents occur when drone operators unintentionally fly too close to an airport and too high in altitude. To avoid future incidents, it’s critical to minimize the potential for human error, particularly in high-risk areas near airports and urban environments.
- Advancing aircraft safety: The safety of our airspace also relies on the health of every drone, air taxi, or other unmanned aircraft in flight. A drone with a malfunctioning propeller or battery failure can unexpectedly interfere with the flight path of an airplane, helicopter, or another drone and put public safety in danger. As more aircraft begin sharing the sky, it’s important to ensure every drone is a healthy, high-performing vehicle.
- Protecting flight data integrity: In the wake of an incident, accurate flight data is critical to analyze the sequence of events and hold drone operators accountable. But authorities need assurances flight logs haven’t been tampered with by the drone operator or a third party. This requires the industry to ensure the integrity of data exchanged between operators, authorities, service suppliers, and other stakeholders.
- Improving industry collaboration: It’s also important to enable a common operating picture across the industry to solve unmanned traffic management. There are still many paper records used in manned aviation that can’t be relied on as the volume of unmanned flights grows. We must eliminate the need for paper documents and open the opportunity for more collaboration with digital records. However, it will be critical to maintain the privacy of confidential data, such as operator details and payload information, so it’s only accessible to authorized parties.
What’s the solution to these unmanned traffic management challenges?
Blockchain technology. In technical terms, blockchain is a distributed ledger of immutable records stored in a decentralized database. Although it sounds complex, this technology is the key to simplify flight transparency and create immutable audit trails.
In SkyGrid’s blockchain instance, each flight log can be stored in real-time and linked to the previous log with cryptography. That means all flight plans and historical drone data is tamper-proof and verifiable. The use of private keys ensures only authorized parties have access to confidential data.
Augmented with smart contracts, blockchain technology can have an even bigger impact in simplifying unmanned traffic management. It can help automate airspace compliance by encoding the rules as mandatory parameters in a flight planning system. And it can improve aircraft safety by requiring regular system checks and ensuring all maintenance needs are resolved.
Check out our latest whitepaper to learn more about blockchain and its ability to solve many of the biggest challenges in unmanned aviation.