Over the Hills and Far Away

Vigilant Aerospace Systems (VAS), a private US company was founded in Oklahoma City in 2015, licenses aviation technologies. VAS commercialises NASA flight safety technologies and develops innovative situational sensing, analysis and prediction solutions which can enables collision avoidance and autonomous flight for both drones and small and medium-sized planes.

The company recently completed Beyond Line-of-Sight UAS Detect-and-Avoid Flight Testing at NASA Armstrong. This testing was observed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and by an observer from the Federal Communications Commission who monitored radio transmissions. The testing programme was the result of many months of development, rigorous safety planning and test preparation and finished in December 2016.

While there are still many, many hoops to jump through, the significance of this cannot be overstated. For drone delivery to be profitable, beyond line-of-sight operation of UAVs, operation of UAVs in twilight and evening hours and multiple drone operation by a single operator has to be permitted. As Valour Consultancy, has said previously, it makes no sense to replace a delivery rider with a qualified drone operator at twice the cost.

In the nine months since the FAA created a drone registration system (December 2015), more than 550,000 unmanned aircraft have been registered with the agency with new registrations coming in at a rate of 2,000 per day according to the FAA’s Earl Lawrence, Director of the UAS Integration Office.

These seem like big numbers but they will be completely dwarfed once economically-feasible drone deliveries are permitted. While the lowly paid jobs for delivery drivers will become scarcer, the benefits of decrease in pollution, speeding up of deliveries and the option of delivering to a mobile phone that can be tracked rather than to a house that is unmanned for most of the day while its occupant are at work become apparent and virtually irresistible.

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