Singapore Airshow 2016: 'Geo fencing' to help regulate drone activity

A solution called "geo fencing" can be used to prevent drones, or unmanned aircraft, from dangerously flying into airspaces such as those near airports, a regulatory expert said yesterday.

European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) executive director Patrick Ky said it was looking into this technology, which involves installing in drones a Global Positioning System chip to define "fences".

"The chip is loaded with a certain number of areas in which the air traffic (or drone) cannot enter. It's fencing based on the geo localisation of the drone," Mr Ky told reporters on the sidelines of the Singapore Airshow Aviation Leadership Summit 2016.

During the summit, aviation experts discussed several regulatory approaches to drones, including pilot licensing and certifications of such vehicles, which have become more common in recent years.

In Singapore, new laws took effect in June last year specifying, among various things, that permits have to be sought to fly a drone of more than 7kg, or within 5km of any airport. No cases have been reported here of drones flying near airports.

Experts say it is very risky if this were to happen.

Captain Martin Chalk, president of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations, said a plane approaching an airport at 4km a minute to land has no chance of avoiding a drone in its path.

In Europe last year, Mr Ky said, there were a "few dozen" cases where pilots reported a drone near an airport, and this number will only grow. In about five of the incidents, Mr Ky said airport operations had to be temporarily suspended.

Dr Francis Schubert, legal counsel with the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation, said he sees a future where there are two kinds of airspaces - one open to civil aviation, with little drone activity, and another, a thin layer above the Earth's surface where drone activity will take place.

In the latter, safety remains a concern in dense cities, experts say. Mr Ky said a certification process may be necessary, such as for drone delivery systems being piloted by online merchant Amazon.

Amazon's drones "will be fully automated and fly in densely populated areas... My question to Amazon - How do you ensure those vehicles are not going to fall on people walking on streets?"

Space for drones in a high-flying city

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2016, with the headline ''Geo fencing' to help regulate drone activity'. Print Edition | Subscribe