Increasing use of drones prompts airlines to call for global registry system

A global drone registration system has been backed by a group representing the world’s airlines as the number of collisions and near-collisions with aircraft has soared in recent years.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 278 major airlines across the world, has agreed with proposals from the United Nations’ aviation agency to develop such a registry, which could also help track the number of incidents involving drones and jets.

“Tech giants including Amazon, Google, Uber, Space X and others, are now part of the global aviation community,” IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac said at the Safety and Flight Ops Conference in Montreal.

“In most, but not all, cases, the relevant activities of these companies centre on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, which I will refer to as drones.

“Drones are an enormous commercial opportunity for this industry. However, their operations need to be accommodated without having any negative impact on safety or airspace efficiency.”

He added: “The focus on the air traffic management of drones is increasingly becoming a necessity, not only for the development of the unmanned traffic management architecture, but also to ensure safe integration into the overall airspace structure.”

Amazon started testing autonomous drone deliveries in the UK in 2016 after getting approval from the British government the year before. 

While the service hasn’t launched commercially since the tests, once Amazon and other companies start using drones in earnest for deliveries their presence is expected to rise exponentially.

IATA said it would consider collaborating with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to use the registry for data analysis to improve safety.

ICAO is developing the registry as part of broader efforts to come up with common rules for flying and tracking unmanned aircraft.

Airlines and airport operators are looking to drone registries, geo-fencing technology and stiffer penalties for operating drones near airports.

In Britain, the number of near misses between drones and aircraft more than tripled between 2015 and 2017. In September, a plane taking off from Glasgow Airport came within 15 metres of crashing into a drone, according to the UK Airprox Board, which also recorded 92 other incidents occurring last year alone. 

A single registry would create a one-stop-shop that would allow law enforcement to remotely identify and track unmanned aircraft, along with their operator and owner.

“The intention at present is to merge this activity into the ICAO registry for manned aircraft, so that the sector has a single consolidated registry network,” said ICAO spokesman Anthony Philbin.

The US already launched a national drone registration programme in late 2015 with Europe following suit two years later. 

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