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June 11, 2021

Drones in Construction: Regulatory Trends

The enthusiastic adoption of drone technology by both individuals and enterprises faces regulatory barriers in many countries, driven by a combination of security and safety concerns.

Compelled by industrial demand, several governments are gradually undertaking regulatory reforms relating to the use of drones in commercial airspaces.

Regulatory Trends

Listed below are the key regulatory trends impacting the drones industry theme, as identified by GlobalData.

US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation

Historically, the US has been reluctant to relax regulations covering commercial drones, citing security and safety concerns. However, by 2017 the FAA had announced exemptions to some companies permitting them to operate drones beyond visual line of sight. In the same year, President Trump announced the launch of Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP), which is intended to foster collaboration between federal agencies and enterprises.

Such initiatives indicate that the US, as the largest drone consumer currently, is making efforts to move beyond recreational markets and establish a framework that allows the use of drones in commercial applications. The country’s transformed outlook on drone regulations has been triggered by developments in countries such as Japan, China, Australia, Singapore, Poland, and the UK, which are attracting commercial opportunities by steadily evaluating and permitting drone applications.

Moreover, the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorisation and Notification Capability (LAANC) services have been initiated across 300 air traffic facilities in the country, under which the partner industrial organisations – Aerodyne, Airbus, AiRXOS, Altitude Angel, Converge, DJI, KittyHawk, UASidekick Unifly, AirMap, Harris Corp, Project Wing, Skyward, and Thales – are involved in ensuring safe drone operations at night and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in specific locations.

Europe U-Space Programme

In October 2018, a €9.5bn ($10.8bn) programme was announced under the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research joint undertaking (SESAR JU) U-Space blueprint to conduct tests of a wide range of drone operations and their interactions with manned aviation across Europe. The programme has outlined nine projects, which include drone deliveries, medical emergencies and police interventions, maritime search and rescue missions, and forest inspections. These projects will enable collaboration between drone operators, administration regulators, law enforcement agencies (LEAs), and product developers – along with the latest technological systems – in a single environment to draft future drone legislation.

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After the completion of the nine projects funded under SESAR JU, the U-Space programme will be merged with the European Master Plan, which will take on the allocation of additional resources for the development and application of drones in all kinds of operational environments. Under the U-Space programme, standards and recommended practices (SARPs) are currently being drafted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which will lead to initiating operations by 2023. The programme will integrate technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), big data, and 5G to ensure cybersecurity defence against drones. The U-Space programme is intended to facilitate a common set of drone legislation across the European Union (EU), which will benefit military and civilian users.

Illegal drones

Over the 2018 Christmas period, one of the UK’s busiest airports was bought to a standstill for three days as a result of a reported incursion by an unauthorised drone. The airport authorities were forced to close the runways until the threat posed by the rogue drone (or drones) had been dealt with. In August 2018, drones were reportedly used in an attempt on the life of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, with Venezuelan authorities claiming that two drones carrying nearly two kilograms of explosives were used in the assassination attempt. While the government’s narrative is subject to considerable dispute, the incident highlights the potential of drone technology to undertake attacks of this kind.

These incidents raise two primary concerns. The first relates to the regulation and management of drones, while the second concerns the ability of the authorities to intercept and capture or disable rogue drones. The fact that a single individual could use a relatively inexpensive device to close an airport represents a significant economic threat. The low cost and ease of use of drones makes them attractive for use in criminal activities ranging from illegal surveillance (snooping), to drug smuggling or terrorism.

Anti-drone Technology

In the light of the security concerns relating to drones, and the significant disruption that can be inadvertently or maliciously caused by drones and their operators, a new technology category in the form of anti-drone technology has emerged. Anti-drone technology is still relatively nascent, with current products applying one (or a combination of) the following techniques: radio jamming (to disrupt the control signals send by the controller), take-over (taking control of the drone by interfering with and replacing the control signals being sent by the operator), destructive attacks (using projectiles or high powered lasers to damage and disable the drone), and capture attacks (using grapples or nets to capture the drone).

This is an edited extract from the Drones in Construction – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.

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