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American Shipper

DHL launches German drone program

The integrator will soon begin delivering medicine in Europe via drone.

   In the quest to deliver cargo by drones, DHL seems to be crossing the finish line first. It will soon begin a pilot project between Germany and the island of Juist, in the North Sea involving drones delivering medicine.
   The drone will fly medicines to the island during times “when such alternatives as ferries and flights are not available,” according to DHL.
   DHL officials, who have been working on the project since December, say this project is the first time a drone has been flown “outside the pilot’s field of vision in a real-life mission” in Europe.
   When the first official flight takes off for the 12-kilometer journey, it will also mark the first completely autonomous voyage. It will, however, be “constantly monitored,” the integrator said, so that pilots can take over if a problem arises. When the drone reaches the island, a courier will pickup and deliver the medicine.
   “Our DHL parcelcopter 2.0 is already one of the safest and most reliable flight systems in its class that meets the requirements needed to fulfill such a mission,” DHL’s Jürgen Gerdes, chief executive officer of eCommerce, parcel division, said in a statement. “We are proud that this additional service can create added value for the residents of and visitors to the island of Juist and are pleased with the support we have received from the involved communities and agencies.”
   Microdrones  GmbH and RWTH Aachen University’s Institute of Flight Systems Dynamics assisted on the project, and the German Ministry of Transport tailored a restricted flight space for the drone.
   “With the DHL parcelcopter, an unmanned aircraft operating outside the controller’s field of vision will perform deliveries for the first time in a real-world mission. Without the extremely high level of willingness to innovate and to find solutions exhibited by the involved agencies, communities and the Wattenmeer administrative unit of Lower Saxony, such a project would not be possible,” Gerdes said.
   In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration is still working toward developing regulations for the commercial operation of drones. The agency Thursday will approve the use of unmanned aircraft systems by Hollywood filmmakers, according to reports. Back in June, seven production companies had asked the FAA for “exemptions from regulations that address general flight rules, pilot
certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates,” according to an agency press release. 
   Vortex Aerial, one of the companies involved in the quest for FAA approval, recently released a statement addressing the importance of the FAA’s decision.
   “We are very proud to be a part of this monumentally historical event,” the company said. “Being the result of over 4 years of industry-leader collaboration, we can
only hope that this most daunting and financially taxing of tasks will
finally come to fruition and not be yet another false start for our
industry. Our steadfast and diligent efforts will hopefully open for
all, the long-awaited implementation of this bristling new technology.”
   The FAA has been trying to make up for lost time since July, when the Department of Transportation found the agency was lagging behind in the drone-approval process. In its report, it said the agency had no regulatory framework and lacked a clear consensus on technology standards. Furthermore, its inconclusive analysis of safety data meant that commercial drone approval was still far off in the future.
   DOT also noted that the FAA has missed significant drone-approval milestones as laid out by Congress in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Of the 17 goals outlined in the act, the agency had met nine by July. These goals were to represent stepping stones toward a Congressionaly-mandated FAA approval of drones for commercial use by September 2015. In its report, the DOT warned that a country-wide approval was unlikely to happen by that deadline.
   “Significant technological, regulatory, and management barriers exist to safely integrate UAS into the NAS,” the DOT wrote in its report. “Until FAA addresses these barriers, UAS integration will continue to move at a slow pace, and safety risks will remain.”
   The drone-as-cargo-carrier conversation has always been bubbling under the surface, but last fall, Amazon pushed the conquest to centerstage with its hope for Amazon Prime Air, a drone delivery surface. Widely dismissed by those in the industry as a publicity stunt, Amazon nevertheless made the drone conversation more pressing. Amazon has since pressed the FAA for drone testing clearance, and it remains hard at work developing the Amazon drone concept.
   Google has also added its name to the list of drone researchers, and has conducted delivery research for the past two years as part of Project Wing. Real-world tests reportedly occurred in Austrailia to skirt FAA’s ban on unmanned aircraft.
   At the end of August, Michael Toscano, chief executive officer of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, expressed support for Google’s plan. The association has also thrown its backing Amazon’s way.
   In a statement, he said when the unmanned aerial system industry is fully integrated into the national airspace, it will “create more than 100,000 jobs in the first decade after integration” and generate $82 billion.
   “Google’s announcement of its planned UAS delivery service further demonstrates the potential of UAS technology,” he stated. “It also highlights how this technology will revolutionize industries and the importance of the FAA keeping the integration process on track. Whether it is helping farmers survey their fields, search for lost hikers, filming Hollywood movies or performing scientific research over hurricanes, UAS are capable of saving time, saving money and, most importantly, saving lives.”

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