A paradigm shift is happening in the transport systems of societies. During this decade, Sweden’s will expand to include fossil-fuel-free drone use carrying people and goods above cities and rural areas. This change is rapidly unfolding and requires significant planning.
For many years now, drones have been used for inspection and monitoring services globally. Sweden is now doing the same. These services were easy to implement because they did not require permits for flight routes. Today, between fifty and one hundred municipalities use drones in their day-to-day operations. As drone technologies and municipal regulations develop, data capture and processing will continue to advance.
Next, infrastructure for drone transport of people and goods needs to be established. Future transport will be fossil-fuel-free and independent of heavy terrestrial investments. The fast-developing extensive use of drones requires the creation of safe and effective air traffic regulations. An infrastructure that needs to take existing systems, as well as new forms of communication, and take offs and landings, into account. Not to mention the creation of effective billing and service provisions, and the establishment of effective airspace corridors for unmanned flight vehicles.
We know that the billions of dollars currently being invested in drone technology will result in the development of different types of drones for different needs. We also know that we can build the technical communication infrastructure required to ensure communication with drones. To accomplish this, municipal planning organizations must develop new processes and procedures. This planning responsibility is currently developing, and collaboration between all is required. Who will take responsibility for equipping the municipality and the region to drive development? Regardless, in the near future the lower airspace must considered and regulated and detailed plans must be written.
The airspace and the regulations that govern them will be delimited both horizontally and vertically. Vertical delimitation means that it is possible, for example, to have several detailed plans in different layers that apply one above the other, but which are clearly delimited from each other vertically. For example, when planning underground traffic, such as road, railway or tram tunnels. Or, as in future planning of the lower airspace for the fossil-fuel-free and efficient drone transports of the future. The future is soon here and community building and the establishment of infrastructure takes time to plan and implement. It is time to start investigating and preparing.
The Way Ahead
To establish drone transport on a larger scale, a build-up of knowledge is required. Planning processes, and the development of transport plans, must include how the lower airspace can be delimited and used for drones. Air corridors need to be demarcated and illustrated. This includes risk and impact assessments. Here, different experts with different competencies must meet and collaborate. Aviation and drone skills must be included in the planning work. New types of infrastructure need to be established, like Vertiports – take-off and landing sites. In addition, digital communication infrastructure is required for controlling and monitoring the airspace. The drone transport system also needs to be connected to, and integrated with, other transport systems.
Planning processes and digital tools for simulation and visualization of the airspace need to be developed. Legal conditions and regulations regarding airspace need to be incorporated.
The infrastructure of the future will not only be fossil-fuel-free but will also have a digital building process. In addition, there will be increased mobility and competitiveness, as well as the benefit of new jobs.
The future will soon be here – it is high time to start planning!
PhD student and Project Engineer
Copyright picture of drone: Bartini Aero