Apart from the already discussed question of the design of a legal framework for parcel drones, their use also raises questions regarding their integration into urban airspace. This aspect will be addressed in the following.
General question: Integration of drones in the airspace
The question of integrating drones into the airspace is a general one and thus applies regardless of the type of drone and the place of use. As the use of drones for various purposes is increasing, there is a corresponding need for regulation, especially to avoid risks such as collisions and/or crashes. However, these risks are increased in urban airspace compared to rural regions.
Urban airspace: Increased need for coordination
The reason for this is the complexity of urban airspace itself. In urban airspace in particular, numerous participants come together in a confined space. In order to be able to create a safe infrastructure for parcel drones here, solid fine-tuning is required between all parties involved. This requires the exchange of a great deal of information between the drone, its operator, and also air traffic control.
In addition, many individual aspects need to be clarified, particularly with regard to parcel drones. For example, it must be regulated where, when and how the parcel drones may take off and land. The specific course of the delivery process as such also needs to be defined. In order to arrive at sensible regulations here, the experience gained from current pilot projects will be of great benefit.
At the European level, the complex issue was first addressed in the form of the draft regulation published by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in 2019. On April 23rd, 2021, this draft was adopted as Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/664 "on a regulatory framework for U-Space" and will apply from January 26th, 2023. The term U-Space does not mean special airspace for drones. Rather, it encompasses special rules to ensure that the increasing number of drones can be safely integrated into existing air traffic, with both automation and digitalization given a central role. For the operation of parcel drones in particular, the regulation on U-Space therefore represents an important step. However, also this development is far from complete.
Mass transportation capability?
In addition, there are also critical voices with regard to the use of parcel drones in urban areas. These have the scenario in mind that several parcel drone services would start their regular operations. Countless parcel drones per city would have to be expected, all of which would also have to be coordinated with each other. This raises the question of whether using parcel drones in urban areas - as mass transport - actually makes sense, or whether their use would not be better limited to individual flights to hard-to-reach areas. A further evaluation of parcel drones will therefore also have to address this argument.
The use of parcel drones in urban areas can be regarded as a future market. However, due to the high security requirements, the legal and infrastructure-related challenges should not be underestimated. In any case, there will still be a number of hurdles to overcome before parcel drones can be operated (safely) on a larger scale. In doing so, one will also have to deal with the question of the intended use. We would be happy to support you in the legal implementation of your business model in contractually mapping out the complex issue.