Make Drones a Part of the Overall Transport System!
Drones should be treated as a part of the whole transport system and of society more broadly. Only then will we all reap the full economic and social benefits from drone technology. This was ITF Secretary-General Young Tae Kim’s core message in his keynote for the “Drone Enable” symposium organised by ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, held online today, 13 April 2021.
In his speech, Secretary-General Kim outlined five areas “that should be at the forefront of our thinking when we consider how drones should be integrated” into the transport system.
The first area is the economics of drones, according to Kim:
“One of the questions policymakers need to think about is this: Is the economic regulation of drones under the existing frameworks beneficial, or not? Is it even necessary?”
The second area Kim highlighted is how to create public acceptance for drones.
“For citizens to embrace a new technology, the benefits need to be crystal-clear to them”, Kim said. He warned that if drones services were accessible to but a few, while downsides like noise had to be borne by all, acceptance might suffer. “Policymakers should not skimp over the equity aspect if the aim is to make drones an integral part of the transport system.”
The third area for regulatory focus emphasized by the ITF Secretary-General is drones’ impact on the environment.
This issue had received surprisingly little attention, Kim noted. Drawing a parallel to the electric scooters, which were promoted as green but often turned out to be less so, Kim pointed out that “drones, too, need to be judged on their life-cycle emissions. The benchmark for their carbon footprint must include the greenhouse gases generated in production and scrapping. Policymakers will need to carefully evaluate and manage the environmental pros and cons of drones.”
Policymakers generally need to examine the use cases for drones, said Kim.
“By use case, I do not mean what engineers think possible, and businesspeople hope they can monetise. I mean how drones can fill the gaps in today’s transport offer in ways that serve broader societal goals”, explained Kim. He proposed that, as a basic principle, drones should not operate in isolation but put to use where they are suited to fill gaps in the transport system. Drones could complement existing services, for instance, by providing last-mile delivery or mobility, Kim explained. In others, they could be more efficient, or safe, or reliable substitutes for today’s transport options; and they may even create new forms of demand.
The fifth area for policymakers to be attentive to is Infrastructure for drones, Kim said.
“This will not be a big issue in rural areas, where drones can do much to connect remote communities better – but in cities, it will be a different story. Urban drone landing zones will require careful planning, and they will not pop up overnight. Where access to drone services is not equitable because some have landing hubs and others do not, there may be a case for government funding or regulation.”
The ITF has recently published two reports on done regulation that are available for free download:
- Ready for Take-off? Integrating Drones into the Transport System
- (Un)certain Skies? Drones in the World of Tomorrow
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