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Garuda awaits regulation to start cargo drone operation

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A Matternet drone is loaded with a UPS sample box. On March 26, US delivery giant UPS launched the first authorised use of unmanned drones to transport packages. UPS/AFP

Garuda awaits regulation to start cargo drone operation

The plan to use unmanned aerial vehicles, widely known as drones, for cargo delivery in Indonesia’s airspace has raised safety concerns as their operation can disrupt air traffic near airports.

Indonesia is one of the countries that have supported the operation of drones for cargo transportation. National flag carrier Garuda Indonesia announced its plan to fly 100 drones and 50 unmanned vertical take-off and landing aircraft in 2021 to support its cargo business.

The regulator said it was in the process of preparing a more complete regulation to support the commercial use of drones for the delivery of goods.

“Drones are one disruption that must be anticipated in aviation, especially since the drones have been developed and are used for various needs, not only as a hobby or for photography, but also for logistics,” Polana B Pramesti, the civil aviation director-general said in Jakarta on Tuesday.

He said the commercial use of drones should be regulated because besides offering many benefits, they also presented a potential threat.

Garuda Indonesia’s cargo and business development director Mohammad Iqbal said the airline would have to await the issuance of detailed and accommodative regulations on the navigation system and airport system before commercially using them to transport goods.

“Indeed, there are already regulations on the use of light capacity drones, but the operation of drones that can transport cargo of up to 2.2 tonnes has not been regulated. We need it now,” he said adding that Garuda planned to run a trial on the use of drones for goods transportation next month.

The use of drones is regulated under Ministerial Regulation No 47/2016, which was revised from regulation No 180/2015. However, the regulation only covers the licensing procedures on the use of drones for photography, filmmaking and plantation purposes. There is no regulation specifically on the use of drones for cargo transportation.

The plan to operate cargo drones has sparked safety concerns from air navigation firm AirNav Indonesia and airport operator Angkasa Pura I and II. They urge the government to issue stricter regulations for the operation of cargo drones.

Despite being an opportunity for the logistics sector, AirNav Indonesia’s operational director Mokhammad Khatim describes drones as a real threat to aviation if they are not highly regulated and supervised.

Khatim said the number of drones operated in Indonesia had increased over the years, from only 14 drones reported in 2014 to 115 this year. Most drones are flown for filmmaking purposes, plantation and infrastructure.

AirNav said the operation of drones was quite dangerous because 83 per cent of them could fly up to 150m, which can disrupt air traffic because helicopters usually fly within the same altitude, with 62 per cent of operating drones flying without AirNav’s guidance.

“I am sure the number of drones is more than that because I believe many drones have not been reported,” said Khatim.

Last year, four unregistered drones flew around Soekarno-Hatta International Airport without permits, disrupting take-off and landing activities in the airport. This year, the airport operators found another eight flying around the airport.

“The drones can disrupt air traffic around the airport area. They should be regulated. Imagine if the drones get stuck in aircraft machinery, or the drones touch a helicopter’s tail, it is very dangerous” said Khatim.

Angkasa Pura II’s technical director Djoko Murjatmojo also expressed concerns over safety. He called for the issuance of a specific regulation on the operation of cargo drones.

AirNav Indonesia and Angkasa Pura II said there were many loopholes in the existing regulation that needed to be addressed for safety reasons. “We demand more clear and complete regulation. We need clarity in regulation about what drone operators should do,” said Djoko.

Authorities such as Angkasa Pura II or AirNav Indonesia also need the latest technology to enable the company to detect and take immediate action such as order a forced landing in case there is an emergency situation.

The use of drones for cargo transportation is becoming popular in the world at present. Maximize Market Research estimates the global drone cargo delivery market to have reached $6.19 billion in 2017 and it is expected to increase to $28.17 billion in 2026.

THE JAKARTA POST/ANN

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