Drones should be regarded as an opportunity, not a threat, for the aviation industry.

That was the message during the “Aviation Inside Track” panel at the BTA Conference this week.

Andy Shand, general manager for industry affairs at NATS, told delegates: “There’s the threat, and we’ve changed procedures with airport operators so the reaction is more proportional since the Gatwick incident. There are also technologies that can remove the threat.

“But there’s an opportunity from unmanned traffic management (UTM). If you look at UTM, personal transport, those areas, this is Silicon Valley money, and it is absolutely where some of the growth is going to come from. We’re alive to that, we’ll need to integrate that traffic into commercial transport traffic.

“Silicon Valley companies don’t behave like traditional companies. If they come and talk to you, and you put up barriers, they’ll stop talking to you and find somebody who isn’t. We need to be agile and adapt to that.”

It’s right to focus on the safety issue, but this is going to morph into another mode of transport

Aleks Popovich, senior vice-president, financial and distribution services at IATA, agreed. Speaking at the Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin in the Netherlands, he said: “We’ve got drone operators with airline operator codes. Sooner or later, they’re going to come to IATA, and say ‘I’m an airline, can I have an airline code? And by the way, I’d like to settle money between two parties, can I join?’ How do you say no? This is the reality.

“It’s right to focus on the safety issue, but this is going to morph into another mode of transport we need to embrace. We should be ahead of the curve.”

Moderator David Kurk then asked Tom Screen, Birmingham Airport’s aviation director, if he would consider a “drone port”.

Screen replied: “That’s not something that’s ever come up at our executive board meeting! But yes, why not! The advent of Amazon Air could put a company like UPS out of business. This is going to be on the rise in the next few years. Droneport – why not?”

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