IATA is working with ICAO to develop standards for the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), including how airlines and cargo operators use drones and how they will be integrated into airspace.

ICAO has sent a state letter to its member countries calling for them to protect manned aircraft operations from drones, IATA director air traffic management infrastructure Rob Eagles said Dec. 5 at a media briefing at IATA’s Geneva headquarter. About 90 countries now have regulations in place governing drones.

Integrating UAVs into airspace poses challenges of safety and of air traffic management, Eagles said, and this will become only more difficult as drones become more common. ATM procedures will have to be adapted to manage drones that operate both in very low airspace and at altitudes above 60,000 ft., he said.

For airlines, drones present several new business opportunities, IATA head of cargo transformation Celine Hourcade said. Package-delivery companies and retailers are experimenting with using drones to deliver medical supplies, mail and packages in rural—and some urban—areas. But the future could see increasing use of large-payload drones to deliver cargo on thin routes that cannot support a large, manned cargo aircraft.

Unmanned urban air taxis, and possibly air buses, are being developed and will further complicate airspace management, Hourcade said. “Our goal is to facilitate this new branch of aviation by developing standards to support safe, efficient, orderly, reliable and sustainable high-frequency drone operations into the airspace system.”

Madhu Unnikrishnan/Aviation Daily madhu.unnikrishnan@aviationweek.com