RPAS/Drones: The New Safety Question

By Joe Mohmmed Jimoh

A decade ago, drones were virtually an unknown phenomenon. Presently, there is a huge global demand for Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS). However, as fascinating as drones are, there is almost always a feeling of uneasiness attached to them.

On the one hand, Unmanned Arial Vehicles have allowed United States’ military forces to turn the tide in numerous overseas conflicts. It has similarly been successfully deployed in the fight against terror, without risking the life of a single soldier.

On the other hand, there is a growing concern that the technology can fall into wrong hands. It is quite true; drones are a big hit among hobbyist for the attribute to provide a wonderful vantage point for capturing breathtaking aerial video footage. However, many people are understandably worried about being spied on.

The RPAS have had a long and established history that dates back to centuries, but presently there is a paradigm shift. The technology has become increasing sophisticated, lethal and accessible to the masses.

The pace of development of the drone market, both recreational and commercial is incredibly fast. With this equilibrium, comes the twin situation of opportunities and challenges.

Therefore, with the prevalence of their operations, these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) particularly in a non-segregated airspace will require sweeping regulations to ensure safety.

Reportedly, globally, there have been a handful of incidences involving aircraft in fight and drones in the airspace. What this means is that the safety threat is real and palpable.

Quite expectedly, the global aviation community has woken up to the stir. Confronting aviation world is the new civil aviation question. There has to be a reaction to quickly integrate, facilitate, embrace and regulate the opportunities and threats occasioned by the RPAS.

Nevertheless, to take this initiative is the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the octopus regulatory body for global aviation.

Consequently, an ICAO RPAS Symposium for Africa and Indian Ocean (RPAS AFI) was conceptualised. In conjunction with Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) the symposium was held on July 17-18, 2017 in Abuja. The theme of the symposium was: Remotely Piloted Aviation in Africa: Sharing Experience to Provide a Unique Opportunity for States, International Organisations and Stakeholders.

On RPAS and drone operations, the symposium provided that two stream of regulations needed to facilitate different types of unmanned aircraft with their different types of equipment and operations.

State should embrace training of personnel to address the challenges of RPAS technology and associated systems that require high-level aeronautical knowledge for their operators and maintenance personnel including computer based training.

There is need to increase awareness and sensitisation of community and government authorities on UAS operations, differences between RPAS and drones and what these differences require in terms of regulations and procedures.

RPAS and drone operations need to be segregated in an organised and effectively regulated environment. RPAS must comply with existing ATM and CNS requirements, whereas drones normally won’t.

In order to comply with the rapid advancement, volume and scope of unmanned aviation operations, appropriate investment should be done to foster the digitisation and automation of associated systems.

An AFI Region task force should be established to ensure systematic and strategic monitoring of  activities and investigation of incidents and accidents involving RPAS and drones. A covert necessity for a harmonised regulation process that will integrate military/civil aviation coordination.

International/commercial operations should be done in a cohesive strategic manner to ensure appropriate compliance with requirements and practices and oversight while maintaining effective integration with ATM systems. It is critical to have effective RPAS monitoring and implementation and sharing of documentation of activities. States should consider development and harmonisation of regulations with relevant RPAS provisions under the framework of Regional Safety Oversight Organisation (RSOO). States should consider adoption of delegated authority practice within the CAA regulation framework. There is need to have a standardised operation approval process that will allow a comprehensive RPAS/drone oversight.

TECHNOLOGY

In line with the recommendation of the African Telecommunication Union (ATU/UAT), states are strongly encouraged to ensure that RPAS operations are conducted within the framework of globally harmonised spectrum for UAS in accordance with both WRC-12 and WRC-15 (Resolution 155), which together identify 5030-5091 MHz (C-band) as well as fixed satellite service network (Ku-band).

AFI states should promote and maintain support for protection of aviation spectrum and/or explore expansion of spectrum availability in the future in collaboration with the ATU and national communication commissions as applicable.

CASSs and national telecommunication regulators should establish and/or increase collaboration to deliver rules and regulations providing more routine access to airports and the necessary spectrum resources that RPAS will require in the coming years.

CROSS-BORDER OPERATIONS

Public acceptance is essential; different concerns may be raised in different states or societies. Manufacturers must adapt their products to fit the type of operation. Existing regulations for manned aviation can be used as a basic for assessing the hazards, risks and mitigations to authorise operations – once authorised by the first states, then coordinate with other affected states. AFI states should endeavour to ensure integration of RPAS operations in line with Single African air transports market towards YD implementation.

MULTI-STATE OPERATIONS

Software programmes can leverage nationally developed regulatory and airspace data for ease of operational approvals. Technology can mitigate for many aspects including human factor error, loss of C2 link. Successful distinction in regulatory frameworks based on levels of technology (performance-based approach to regulations) will best support introduction of RPAS and drones.

GOING FORWARD

AFI states should strengthen collaboration and cooperation between state regulators; between regulators and operators; and with other stakeholders (telecommunications, aerodromes, ANSPs, military, medical etc.) to ensure effective, appropriate regulations leading to safe RPAS      and drone operations. AFI states and industry should participate in industry standards-making bodies such as ISO. Strong efforts should be undertaken to empower and train African youth, male and female, to bring their familiarity with technology into the RPAS/drone arena.

Culled from The Regulator

 

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