Over the past few years, private drone companies and operators have been testing and revealing new drone delivery programs to demonstrate the capabilities of unmanned aircraft to help with a myriad of applications, from medical supply transport and supply chain management to food delivery. In April 2019, Wing Aviation, received the first-ever approval from the FAA to launch a commercial drone airline. Wing is owned by Alphabet, Inc. Google's parent company, and began as a Google X venture.
Many laws still prohibit the use of drones for delivery in the U.S. The FAA’s Small UAS Rules Part 107 limits the aircraft to the visual line of sight of the pilot flying the drone, and prohibits flying over people without a waiver to do so. Waivers to seek approval for flying “over people” have a very high rejection rate from the FAA, and it is currently illegal to fly beyond line of sight to make a delivery of other people's property.
While it may be years until Americans start seeing drones buzzing overhead delivering pizzas, there are still many questions about airspace safety and security. Here are some frequently asked questions we receive about drone delivery programs.
What security considerations should the public make when learning about the advancement of drone delivery programs?
- Innovation is outpacing regulation: Drones are making headlines, but are not yet a national security priority. Legislators at every level of government are still working on creating regulations to prevent drones from disrupting airports, critical infrastructure, stadiums, and military bases.
- Laws won’t stop drone pilots with malicious intent: The applications for using drones are growing every day. However, not all drone pilots are aware of or will follow laws, which is why it’s up to individuals to understand their own airspace activity and be proactive to ensure what’s happening in their airspace and make decisions whether or not the drone is welcome to fly there.
- Anyone who as a security system in place must now look to the skies. Airspace security, like physical security or cybersecurity, is a critical element to anyone looking to protect people or assets from unwanted lower airspace activity.
What is airspace security?
Airspace security refers to the technologies and actions needed to protect assets and people from unwanted or unauthorized drone activity.
What can the average person do today if there’s an unwanted drone over their homes?
It is a federal crime to interfere with any aircraft, including drones. The average person is not able to take action against a drone, such as shooting it, jamming the signal. However, they can take a passive approach,such as lowering blinds, moving out of the way, and calling the police to report it so they can decide if further action is needed.
What is counterdrone technology?
The Center for the Study of the Drone has defined counterdrone technology as, “Counter-drone technology, also known as counter-UAS, C-UAS, or counter-UAV technology, refers to systems that are used to detect and/or intercept unmanned aircraft.”
There are two primary functions of cUAS technology: the first is to identify or detect drone activity. The second function is to intercept the airspace threat or defeat the drone.
Who can use counterdrone technology?
Anyone can use counterdrone detection technology to assess their airspace activity.Military bases, airports, stadiums, VIPs, public event security all have reasons to ensure their airspace is monitored from drone threats. However, only certain defense organizations may be able to use interception or defeat technology.
Why is counterdrone technology important?
Counterdrone technology first helps understand what’s happening in the airspace, including finding out how many drones there are, what time of day they’re flying, and their flightpath. This is important so that anyone with assets to protect can understand better how to respond if needed.
How does counterdrone technology work?
A counterdrone program integrates multiple sensors to gather the most amount of airspace data available. A layered detection approach integrates hardware such as radio frequency, radar acoustic, and cameras. This ensures that all drones are detected and that the system is not limited by any type, make or manufacturer of drones. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to detecting and mitigating drone threats.
What other drone delivery programs are being developed?
- In Singapore, a drone made by Airbus will begin ferrying supplies and spare parts to ships moored offshore. Airbus is working on the project with Wilhelmsen, a marine-services company.
- Japan Post Co. began transporting documents by drone in Fukushima, the first operation of its kind in Japan, following easing of regulations to cope with labor shortages in the transport industry. Japan Post plans to operate the drone, capable of flying at a maximum speed of 54 kph and carrying up to two kilograms of goods, six days a month and up to two round-trips a day.
- ZF, a German car parts maker, became the first company in the country to be granted approval by the government to use automated drones to fly spare parts to its factory premises.
- DHL, an international delivery company, used a drone to fly medical supplies for a clinic in East Africa. Blood and other samples from the clinic’s patients were then flown to a laboratory for analysis. The drone journey took 40 minutes, compared with six hours by road and ferry.
- Flytrex, an Israeli drone-service company, is working with Iceland’s transport authorities to let them deliver goods to residents around the city of Reykjavik.
- San Francisco-based Uber Technologies is hiring a team to create a drone food delivery program, UberExpress, with an expected launch date of 2021.
- Amazon Prime Air is a future delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using drones.