As the first commercial drones are set to take to US airspace, aviation expert Richard Woodward predicts that unmanned aircraft are to become ubiquitous in taking up dirty or dangerous work, but also infringing on people’s privacy.
RT: When people hear the word drone, they
get a little jittery. Is that justified? Why?
Richard Woodward: It is in some ways because they are about to become ubiquitous. There is going to be hundreds of thousands of these things. If there are any jobs that is dull, dirty or dangerous, you will find a drone doing it.
RT: Are there any risks to civilians with this?
RW: There are a few. First off, there is big privacy issue because these little things can fly up over the side of your house and look down into your yard and look into the windows. The second thing is that there is no real designed standard for the drones at the moment. Every civil aircraft that we fly has very strict design standards. The drones don’t have design standards yet and every country in the world is working on that as fast as they can, but the technology is developing faster than the regulations are keeping up with.
RT: Oil major BP received the first license to use commercial drones, to oversee oilfield operations potentially improving safety standards. Do you think this is a positive sign perhaps?
RW: That is a positive. Surveillance is perfect job for a drone. As I said, it will be boring to sit in a helicopter doing it. But you can do it with a much lower cost with a drone and get higher resolution imagery back to the control side. There is one issue with drones: the technology is limited basically at the moment to the line sight because of control issues. So you can only do it where you can see the drone in the distance.
RT: Privacy is one of the big issues here. Are you expecting a big public response to this? Is it maybe going to grow?
RW: We will see the future drones growing phenomenally fast. It will be one of the big industries around the world because there is any number of applications such as tracking and checking power lines, checking oil fields, taking photographs of your house for sale, even making video documentaries. So the future is vast. The control will be the issue; otherwise we will have them everywhere. We will not have a private moment anywhere in the world.
RT: Is there anything apart from voicing opposition that people can do against it?
RW: We’ve got to rely on the people in the industry controlling the development. One other thing for me as an airline pilot: we can see in the future that we will have these very large drones carrying cargo. Unmanned aircraft flying in the same airspace as people traveling in passenger jets. I don’t think it takes a very long thought to think that perhaps that unmanned aircraft should meet the same standards as the manned aircraft. In other words, it can avoid potential collisions and it is built to design standards. These are issues that the governments have got to deal with and the world will need a National Civil Aviation Organization, which Russia is a member of as well. So we are all working s as fast as we can to keep up with the technology development.