The air ambulance industry has seen several technological advancements in recent times and so have drone designs. However, it is noteworthy that there are not many drones being used in the civilian space meaningfully. Of course, drones are being used in the military space extensively and with high success rates. What is stopping drones from entering the air ambulance industry? This is a question that naturally arises. In this context, it must be noted that it was the military that first adopted medical flights, which eventually became what we refer to today as the civilian air ambulance industry.
What will it Take Drones to Enter the Air Ambulance Industry?
Military drones usually function in no-man zones in war-torn or border areas where there are not many obstructions. They have a fixed task and a fixed target. There is a huge support system on the ground that adds to the functionality of the drones. However, this is not yet the case with the air ambulance industry. Looking at it from a civilian perspective, most of the drones would need to function in areas that are teeming with people, vehicles, and urban infrastructure. These translate into obstacles. Navigating through them is easier said than done.
Obstacle Avoidance is Key to Success
What if the drones are able to avoid obstacles on their own without the need for external interference? A sensory advancement like this can make a huge difference. Come to think of it, the feat is not impossible, especially considering the fact that this is precisely what autonomous vehicles do.
Of course, navigability is another issue. The ground controls that can remotely monitor the drones are limited by range. While satellite controls can be brought into the picture, the danger of misuse of such technological access looms large. The need, therefore, is for a middle ground where safety and efficiency are both ensured. For now, it is a game of wait-and-watch.
Air ambulance industry and drones – the partnership sounds like a perfect plot for another part of the ‘Back to the Future’ series, doesn’t it? Well, not anymore. The possibility seems more like a reality with several firms working towards this goal today. We are already used to seeing drones among hobbyists, photographers, and even scientists. Then there are what seems like hypothetical implementations such as flying taxis and courier services. You will be surprised to know that companies such as Amazon and Uber are pursuing these possibilities with all seriousness and have invested quite a bit in them.
The Air Ambulance Industry is Already Using Drones
Emergency equipment like defibrillators is already being used by the air ambulance industry today, although the prevalence is not widely felt. Then there are larger drones, popular as autonomous aerial vehicles that are making news waves every now and then. Researchers are even working on surveillance drones for emergencies in remote areas. The ability of drones to reach areas where conventional helicopters cannot reach is their advantage. Besides, while a few thousand dollars might be at stake in risky situations, no lives are at risk with drones.
It is a Dicey Road to Tread
The problem lies in people not realizing the true potential of drones. More often, we find overenthusiastic hobbyists flying drones too close to flights. This is a concern that even the air ambulance industry has raised quite often. The prevalence of such use attracts the attention of lawmakers and rightly so, but they are also a hurdle.
It is quite possible that air ambulance industry operators will have to procure separate licenses when it comes to drones, once their use gains mainstream credibility. However, it might be a necessity considering that skies need to be safer for everyone. All said and done, the air ambulance industry is all set for a new evolution in the near future.
Drones have immense potential to augment the efforts of the air ambulance industry. They reduce costs, reach treacherous terrains, and function in risky situations. Thanks to modern technologies like cloud computing and Internet of Things, drones today are making advances in leaps and bounces. However, drones can be a menace too. Flying too close to air ambulances have caused many flights to be aborted midway and led to near-fatal accidents. The fact that such disturbances occur when carrying critical patients is an added insult to the injury. In other words, the air ambulance industry views drones with a mixed feeling. Here, we take a look at some recent developments that prove our point.
The Air Ambulance Industry is Trying to Tackle Stray Drones
Air ambulance industry experts say that, in the UK, drones are not allowed to fly over 400 feet. Failing to comply with this rule can attract fines of up to 1,000 British pounds. However, the problem is that air ambulances, most of the time, are compelled to fly below this altitude. With a growing number of hobbyists taking up flying drones, this is turning out to be a real danger for the air ambulance industry.
The only thing that medical flight organizations can do in this scenario is building awareness. Industry experts say that a good rule of thumb is to keep the drones in sight at all times. If the drone is not visible to the hobbyist, it is likely that it is disturbing a helicopter, likely a medical flight that is en route, trying to help a critical patient before it is too late.
A Full-Service Drone Company Takes Birth in the United States
There is also some good news for the air ambulance industry pertaining to drones. A company by the name Aquiline has come up with a drone that is capable of executing medical rescue operations. The company has developed a dedicated cloud environment and an operating system to make drone operations seamless.
In light of the above developments, it is safe to say that responsible use of drones will definitely help the air ambulance industry in the future.
In light of the recent developments where medical flights around the world were disrupted due to illegally flying drones, there are a few questions that beg to be asked: “Is flying drones legal in the United States?”, “If so, what are the rules and legislations that govern flying of drones?”. Once you are aware of facts such as these, it helps flying them within the legal bounds making it easier for medical flights to ply. It must be noted in this context that flying drones is perfectly legal in the United States, subject to certain restrictions, so much so that even foreigners can bring them into the country and fly them. The Federal Aviation Authority as well as National Aviation Authority allow them.
Rules that Govern Drones in the United States
Rules for flying drones recreationally:
- The reason for flying must only be recreational and there must be no business angle to it.
- Hobbyists must visit https://faadronezone.faa.gov/#/ and register the drone with Federal Aviation Authority
- The drones must never escape your line of vision as you fly them
- Only those drones which are under 55 lbs are permitted
- One must never be close to any aircraft
- Only flying in Class G airspace is allowed
- It is strictly prohibited to fly close to emergency response vehicles such as medical flights
Rules for flying drones commercially:
- The operator must hold a FAA-issued Remote Pilot Certification
- The drones must be registered with FAA just like recreational ones
- It must weight under 55 lbs
- The flight must not cross the speed of 100 miles per hour
- The drone must always remain below 400 feet so that they do not disturb medical flights and other aircrafts
- Any manned aerial vehicle must be given the right to way
- Flying directly over people is prohibited
- Flying a drone from a vehicle is only allowed in thinly populated regions
If these simple rules are taken care of, drone flying becomes a safe activity.
Several countries around the world have progressed much further than the United States when it comes to drones. Take for instance, the East African Nation, Rwanda. The country has been using drones in lieu of air ambulances to transport medical necessities during emergencies. Of course, these might not be as efficient as air ambulances yet, but the day is not far when drones would be much more useful. Rwanda is a country where roads are far from being ideal and drone technology is seen as a respite. Come to think of it, rural America too can benefit from this concept.
The Prevalence Gap between Air Ambulances and Drones in the US
The US skies are dotted with a lot of airplanes, which of course include air ambulances. The drones on the other hand can be a hindrance. In fact, there have been several instances where drones have proven to be a nuisance for air ambulances and commercial flights. The necessity, therefore, is for a regulation that strikes the right balance. Also, general drone enthusiasts should also proactively show more responsibility. The other area that needs a closer look is innovation in the field of medical drones where they can at least play the part of supplementing efforts of air ambulances.
The Government Encouragement for Medical Drones
The congress, at the present time, is in the process of considering a bipartisan legislature called Drone Backlog Reduction Act. The intent of this legislation is to encourage innovation and ensure safety of medical drones. Once that is achieved, it will become easier to get the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration to use medical drones more extensively. At the current time, the use of drone is also severely limited by the norms laid down by the Federal Aviation Administration. If all goes well, the people will benefit from innovations in medical drones immensely.