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Drones for tomorrow's air cargo

The use of drones for civil applications is growing fast for both recreational and commercial markets, such as media and entertainment, firefighting, agriculture, humanitarian, surveillance and monitoring. In the airline industry, drones can be used on the ground for safety checks (aircraft, runway…) and maintenance, for airport perimeter monitoring, bird and wildlife control, warehouse operations; and they can transport cargo, baggage and even passengers.

On the cargo side. drones offer many new opportunities:

  • First and last mile delivery options for small packages in urban and rural areas
  • A more efficient and sustainable mode of transport for remote locations (including humanitarian delivery of goods such as temperature-sensitive medicine, food etc.)
  • A cost-effective alternative to traditional aircraft for specific routes, supporting expanding growth of cross-border e-commerce for instance
  • More efficient cargo operations, with use of these aerial vehicles for automated sorting and inventory

What are the important next steps for drones in air freight?

Safety in the skies for all aircrafts remains the number one priority. Regulations allowing manned and unmanned aircraft are required to share airspace safely in order to adapt to the changing industry. They will need to be performance-based, enforceable, and harmonized to the extent possible. 

To facilitate the adoption of drones and make them an efficient and a viable alternative to traditional aircraft, manufacturers still need to improve technologies such as geo-fencing and collision avoidance, and noise. This will help the public and regulators to accept unmanned aviation and address current negative perceptions.

Safe and efficient integration of drones

IATA has been working with the air industry at large, including ICAO, regulators, and civil aviation authorities, to develop standards and best practices for the safe, efficient and sustainable integration of this new branch of aviation. It was influential in the establishment of the ICAO UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) Advisory group, targeted at drones that could cause a threat to manned aviation, and also has been working on an awareness campaign for regulators, operators, owners and the public.

Working with China, Europe, the USA and CANSO, IATA is also part of a small drafting group to develop a concept of operations (CONOPS) on international operations in non-segregated airspace. IATA is working with industry stakeholders to explore the transformation of air traffic management (ATM) infrastructure as a result of the introduction of new airspace users (unmanned vehicles), as well as working with key industry partners on developing concepts for the architecture of Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM). Find out more on IATA’s activities related to Drones & Safety

Drones: the future of air cargo

In addition to ensuring safety, IATA is looking into how drones can be an enabler for commercial airlines, starting with air freight. We will bring together diverse stakeholders to discuss the benefits and opportunities of drones, especially in air cargo as our role is to encourage our members to look to the future and be ready for new possibilities. For this, we have created a new Strategic Partnership for drones, and are working on a Drones white paper. 

Finally, we are organizing the first DronesLAB event in Barcelona from 3-4 October. There is an exciting line-up of actors in the world of drones: Airbus, Natilus, Astral Aerial, UNICEF, Dronamics, Correos (Spanish post). We will discuss the current state of the drone industry, its legal and regulatory matters, and what we can expect from unmanned cargo aircraft in the future. Don’t miss out on the first DronesLAB.


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