Unmanned and Unstoppable: The Emergence of UAVs in Modern Aviation

Date 19.9.2023

In the past 15 years, the aviation industry has seen an unprecedented evolution. Marking significant milestones from the birth of powered flight to the advent of jet propulsion, and now embracing the electrifying era of electric-powered aircraft, the sector continues to redefine innovation.

The spotlight, however, is now shining brightly on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Once the newcomers of the aviation world, UAVs faced their fair share of skepticism, with many doubting their operational viability and potential. However, perseverance prevails as UAVs gain traction in both international and domestic markets, soaring past the skepticism and into a new age of aviation. Today, we’re at the forefront of an era defined by rapid technological progress. UAVs, once questioned for their place in the future, are now integral parts of our daily lives. As we continue to break boundaries in the aviation industry, the question isn’t if drones will be part of our future, but how they will continue to transform it.

Drones: Enhancing Daily Life and Critical Services

Drones are now seamlessly integrated into our daily lives, significantly contributing to various sectors. They aid in monitoring railway operations, inspecting roads, bridges, and waterways, and ensuring the safety of power lines, wind turbines, and oil and gas platforms. Their utility extends to the realms of construction, housing, and infrastructure, where they have proven invaluable for surveying and inspection tasks.

In the agriculture sector, drones are employed for a range of purposes from crop spraying and soil analysis to seed sowing, fundamentally transforming traditional farming methods.

Beyond these commercial applications, drones also play a pivotal role in supporting critical public services. The coastguard, police, and fire and rescue services have already harnessed the power of drones to enhance their emergency response capabilities. Moreover, the healthcare logistics sector is also poised to employ drone technologies, underscoring the versatility and widespread potential of these remarkable devices.

The development of BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) operations is a game changer. BVLOS will enable services to fly further, controlled by programmed routing, GPS and geo-fencing technology or operated from a ground control station. This will unavoidably lead to larger drones and whilst overall regulation remains quite slow, we are now seeing segregated airspace channels being prepared for longer BVLOS operations – supported by well-known communication mediums.

As drone capabilities improve, in many cases they will not only replace helicopters and fixed wing aircraft but will create entirely new services. The adoption of drones to replace helicopters and some fixed wing aircraft will undoubtedly have an impact on general aviation. But the largest and most positive impact will be through the creation of new services and the sustainable increased use of airspace instead of roads and waterways.

The Role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Aviation

Advancements in fields such as robotics, battery power, gyroscope design, communications, sensing technology, AI, and GPS have paved the way for innovators, backed by escalating investment levels, to not only develop new drones but also unlock novel business models across various industries. Crucially, AI-based technologies like computer vision and machine learning are instrumental in facilitating autonomous commercial aircraft. These technologies allow these aircraft to perform complex tasks, such as taking off and landing, navigating, and detecting ground obstacles independently. Airports are beginning to harness the power of AI, utilizing it to construct biometric terminals, as first seen at Atlanta International Airport, or to enhance operational efficiency. AI-driven solutions can track and analyze passenger flow within airport facilities, estimate waiting times, recognize crowd patterns and congestion points, and use these insights to improve queue management and crowd control.

So, how does AI assist pilots? AI algorithms can process massive amounts of data, including weather patterns, air traffic, and aircraft performance parameters. By doing so, they can generate optimized flight routes that account for fuel efficiency, time management, and turbulence minimization. The result is an enhanced, efficient flight plan.

AI and Pilots: Companions Rather Than Competitors?

When it comes to the question, “Will AI replace pilots?” the answer is likely to be no. Pilots are

traditionally involved in active flying operations, and while AI systems might respond faster, they lack the capacity to make subjective decisions or understand moral choices. Furthermore, a multitude of legal, governmental, and safety standards must be met before such a shift could occur. One of the significant challenges facing AI in aviation is ensuring system safety and security. As with any intricate technology, there’s a risk of errors and malfunctions, making it critical to thoroughly test and validate AI systems before their deployment. On the downside, AI can be costly and its implementation across the global aviation industry may take time.

Aircraft Manufacturing: A Resilient Growth

Broadly speaking, the aircraft manufacturing market continues to grow, even with geopolitical tensions, such as the Ukraine-Russia conflict, impacting all industrial sectors, including insurance conditions. An increase in technologically advanced aircraft also means a potential increase in the chance of incidents occurring during operation.

Effective Claim Incident Settlement

Resolving an insurance claim effectively involves adhering to several key points:

● Contact your aviation insurance broker or insurance provider promptly to report the claim.

● Document the loss with photos, diagrams, and statements.

● Unless immediate removal is necessary, wait for approval from relevant authorities before beginning aircraft recovery and transportation. Keep in mind that the insurance broker will need specific documents from the aircraft operator. 

Here are some additional suggestions:

● Protect the aircraft from further damage.

● Consider the insured value of the aircraft.

● Remember that wear and tear, deterioration mechanical or electrical breakdown, failure, or malfunction or mechanical/electrical malfunctions are not covered by the aviation insurance policy.

Navigating an aviation insurance claim need not be daunting. Many claims handlers, often aircraft owners and pilots themselves, can anticipate your questions, concerns, and needs, seeking a fair and efficient resolution to get you back in the air.

Emerging Satellite Technologies

The eagerly awaited surge of novel satellite technologies and launch vehicles is beginning to materialize, notwithstanding numerous setbacks.

Most risk placements slated scheduled for launch in 2023, and a fair number in 2024, have already been assigned to insurers. In-orbit placements, those with moderate insured sums and devoid of significant technical concerns, will also reap the benefits of competitive dynamics amongst insurers, especially those consolidating multiple satellites into a single package.

As it stands, the overall space insurance market has seen a restrained exposure to the Small Sat sector, with numerous potential clients choosing to retain a large proportion of their insurable risk.

Modern Technologies: Potential for Progress and Cyber Threats

The integration of new technologies invariably carries the potential for cyber threats. Cyber attackers, driven by financial and political motives, and the pursuit of sensitive information, are a real risk. Beyond financial and reputational damages, successful assaults in the aviation sector can lead to disruptions in air traffic, accidents, and even loss of life. Attackers’ sophistication is growing, with strategies ranging from drone system invasions to social engineering.

The most prevalent types of assaults include Ransomware, Data Breaches, Phishing, and DDoS

(Distributed Denial-of-Service). Both civil aviation and military-related incidents have been noted. Now, it’s more critical than ever that businesses are fortified against these cyber threats.

As an insurance broker, we offer comprehensive Space and Satellite insurance solutions, encompassing pre-launch insurance, launch/commissioning and early orbit coverage, in-orbit operation coverage, and Third-party liability insurance. We also adopt a consultative approach, appraising your unique cyber risks and exposures. From this assessment, we design cyber insurance products custom-fitted to your business needs. Our commitment to deliver the best pricing, service, and support throughout 2023 is unwavering and well-resourced.

Hana Kulhová

Head of the Aviation Department of RENOMIA, a. s.

Foto: Archiv RENOMIA, Adobe Stock, capnaux.com, nasa.gov, aviationtoday.com

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