By Kizito Bongayi
Disruptive innovation creates new markets by discovering new categories of customers partly by harnessing new technologies, and also through new business models and exploiting old technologies in new ways.
Drones form part of this innovation, and bring aviation into the fourth industrial revolution, flying not only to transport but also to acquire information. The digitalized information enables IT and telecommunication revolution, as well as creation of global information market. The question to the world would then be, why moving “objects” when we need to move only the “information”
The struggle to sustain these innovations and create performances that customers can utilize or absorb leads to yet a new pace of technological development which in turn finds a new mass market for such technology, and targeting a new generation. That’s why these innovations always win.
The drone industry is diverse, disruptive innovation and international in nature. It has an enormous potential for growth with the associated possibility to create jobs. Drones can either be remotely piloted from a remote pilot station or autonomously operated where they do not allow pilot intervention in their management of the flight but rather pre-programmed to follow defined routes.
The drones if not well managed would cause a greater challenge in the aviation industry especially in the management of the airspace with high risk of collision with manned aircraft, and possible harm to the social well-being of people.
Some challenges facing drone operation and regulation include lack of international legal framework resulting in lack of comprehensive national regulation necessary to safely facilitate the integration of UAVs into our respective national airspace system.
There is also lack of technological and operational standards needed to guide safe and consistent performance of UAVs, as well as vulnerability in the command and control of UAV operations, e.g. GPS-jamming, hacking and the potential for cyber terrorism. Further, there is the inability of drones to recognize and avoid other aircraft and airborne objects in a manner similar to other manned aircraft. There are also other aviation risks such as violation of individual privacy, air safety, criminal use and insurance related risks.
However, considering the benefits drones carry along, Rwanda opted to mitigate related challenges using the safety and risk assessment approach to maximize the exploitation of the greater part of the opportunities the drones provide.
As a result, Rwanda astablished a legal framework that offered innovation space necessary for exploring technology and fine-tuning designs, systems and operations within legal confines while at the same time adapting to innovation dynamism and allowing the two to mature simultaneously with the drone technology.
The Authority and industry work together in defining technological and operational standards needed to guide safe and consistent performance of UAVs. They collaborate in areas of Advisory Circulars, Procedure Manuals and different working protocols. The Authority undertakes continuous development, and consultative meetings and engagements with all other stakeholders.
Regarding the mitigating of other associated drone risks, prior notice is required before drone operates in Rwanda. Also required is the Local Authority approval of the operation, ATC clearance before drone launch, coordination with ATC during drone operations, and surveillance system to monitor drone operations.
There is also involvement of security organs at all stages of development and operations of drones, holding drone operators accountable for any violation of the regulations. Further risk assessment is being conducted in conjunction with insurance companies to determine the actual risk involved and compensation required.
For drones to be safely integrated into commercial airspaces, some important tips should be considered. Safe commercial drone operations at larger scale are possible today, and the economic and social benefits create an obligation for swift action. A successful regulatory framework should distinguish between different classes of drone operators and different applications of drone technology.
Also, working with commercial drone operators to gain experience before attempting to implement comprehensive drone regulations is valuable. Due to the rapid pace of drone technology development, building flexibility into the regulatory framework is essential. Importantly also, it should be noted that commercial drone operations differ from traditional manned aviation, and CAAs should be open to alternative means of compliance from industry.