Friday, May 8, 2015

New Drone Trials Have Some Ramifications for Freight and Logistics Industry

Cargo Carriage Unlikely but US Sees a Potentially Valuable Monitoring Tool
Shipping News Feature

US – We have written before regarding the pros and cons of associating drones with cargo operations, with fairly uncomplimentary assessments of their usefulness. There are however certain tasks associated with the freight and logistics industry where unmanned aerial vehicles have a place, besides their potentially life-saving use in the everyday world, as we have also reported.

This week the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a partnership with industry to explore the next steps in unmanned aircraft operations beyond the type of operations the agency proposed in the draft small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) rule it published in February. That proposal set out safety rules for small UAS (under 55 pounds) conducting non-recreational operations. The rule limits flights to daylight and visual-line-of-sight operations. It also addresses height restrictions, operator certification, optional use of a visual observer, aircraft registration and marking, and operational limits.

The new trials were announced at the Unmanned Systems 2015 conference hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. The Pathfinder research programme includes three major US companies: CNN, PrecisionHawk, and BNSF Railroad, all of whom have committed extensive resources toward research that will help expand the range of FAA approved UAS operations in the next few years.

The work is intended to provide significant insights into how unmanned aircraft can be used to transform the way certain industries do business, whether that means reporting on a natural disaster, checking on the health of crops, or making sure trains run on time.

CNN will research how visual line-of-sight operations might be used for newsgathering in urban areas with the potential to warn drivers of problems on the highways. PrecisionHawk, will survey crops in rural areas using unmanned aircraft flying outside of the pilot’s direct vision whilst BNSF Railroad will explore the challenges of using these vehicles to inspect their rail infrastructure beyond visual line-of-sight in isolated areas, something which impinges on the world of logistics with a real chance of spotting problems on the tracks both faster and more efficiently.

February’s public consultation resulted in more than 4,000 public comments on the proposal, all of which are under consideration before a final set of operational rules are established.