Civil aviation authorities around the globe are just starting to come to terms with how to regulate UAVs and drones. Most recently, the Civil Aviation Administration of China revealed that it would focus much of its attention on larger drones, weighing more than 25kgs.
From a feasibility standpoint, UAV technologies will soon mature to a stage where it will become possible to deploy large unmanned cargo vehicles into commercial applications − either as an extension of the autopilot function, or via pilots located on the ground, in remote-person view (RPV) control centers. The story does not, however, end with a functional concept. As has already been the case with lighter drones used for last-mile deliveries, security concerns, particularly in urban areas and throughout developed countries, manifest additional regulatory hurdles that could delay or even prevent the deployment of unmanned drones, even as the technology matures.
With regards to China, it now seems almost certain that larger UAVs will encounter a bit of regulatory turbulence on the path to certification. The CAAC is now actively drafting airworthiness certification procedures for larger unmanned aircraft, according to a Caixin interview with Xu Chaoqun, the official in charge of airworthiness certification at the body. Smaller drones weighing less than 25kg, he said, will not be subject to flight safety and airworthiness regulations. Meanwhile, commercial drones weighing between 250 grams and 25kg will continue to require confirmed-identity registration − a practice that has been in place since June of this year.
As for larger drones, Xu said the lack of an on-board pilot adds a layer of complexity, but noted the CAAC may not seek a one-size-fits-all policy for airworthiness certification. “Regulations could be looser if the aircraft flies through deserts, but if it flies over densely populated areas, the regulations will be much tighter,” Xu said. More than a handful of companies based in China are already at various stages of developing purpose-built large cargo drones, including Shenzhen-based integrator SF Express and Beijing-based e-commerce giant JD.com. Regulation could ultimately determine the success of these projects.
Those interested in learning more about the e-commerce and express market, and the use of drones in China, and elsewhere in Asia, are invited to join us next year at Cargo Facts Asia, co-hosted by the Shanghai Airport Authority. The Symposium will be held 23-25 April at the Mandarin Oriental Pudong. To checkout next year’s exciting agenda, or to register, visit www.cargofactsasia.com.
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