Despite having given permission to Amazon to test its Amazon Prime Air programme, the Civil Aviation Authority has no policy on autonomous drone flight, a representative of the CAA told DronePunks.
Amazon plan to deliver parcels using drones, combining fixed-wing and rotor-blade technology and deploying artificial intelligence to sense and avoid obstacles, as previously reported. The CAA have granted them an exemption to fly beyond line of sight and for a single operator to control multiple units. However, speaking to DronePunks, Jonathan Nicholson, the Assistant Director Corporate Communications of the CAA, explained that the CAA as yet has no policy on autonomous flight.
“Really the technology to integrate them into the airspace system doesn’t exist,” he said. “When people have got the technology and the ability to do things they obviously can come to us and ask if that is possible. And then that’s when that can be looked at… If people can’t demonstrate to us what they want to do then we can’t have a policy on it.”
He also stressed that granting Amazon permission for trials does not necessarily mean permission will be granted for the finished technology. “The Amazon trials are very much trials,” he said. “They’re being done in a very contained environment. We’ve had people contact us going, ‘I’m not happy that Amazon are going to be delivering by drone in my neighbourhood,’ or whatever. That’s not what we’ve given permission for.”
There has also been speculation that a commercial airspace corridor could be opened up below the current 400-feet height limit. Jonathan commented, “There are other things in that airspace. It’s not just drones. I know Amazon Prime Air have spoken about having 200 feet to 400 feet for commercial, high-level, high-tech drones but there are a lot of other things in that airspace as well… Within that piece of airspace you have helicopters, med-evac helicopters, light aircraft, balloons, hang-gliders, fast military jets, kites, etcetera etcetera and you need to work out how safely you make that happen.”
As for operating above 400 feet, “The only way you could do something like that at the moment is if you shut the airspace to all other airspace users.”
Business Insider recently reported that they had identified Amazon’s testing location near Cambridge, providing images from the ground and the air. The CAA and Amazon have so far refused to confirm whether this is correct.
In a statement on the testing, Paul Misener, Amazon’s VP of global innovation policy and communications, said, “This ground-breaking work will help Amazon and the government understand how drones can be used safely and reliably in the logistics industry. It will also help identify what operating rules and safety regulations will be needed to help move the drone industry forward.”
Jonathan also spoke about the CAA’s Dronecode, providing safety guidelines for consumer users, the future of drone regulation, and the importance of not misreporting drone incidents in the case of ambiguity or uncertainty.
You can read the full interview with Jonathan Nicholson here.
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