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Planning matters

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Drones, airports and an already constrained airspace: are the latest government proposals enough?
Last week, for the second time in less than a month, flights at a major London airport were halted by drone activity. On 8th January flights out of Heathrow Airport were suspended for over an hour, following drone sightings. Between 19th and 21st December, the runway at Gatwick Airport was closed for nearly 36 hours after drones were reported over the airfield, with flights unable to take-off or land. At Gatwick, as the world’s busiest single-runway airport and on one of its busiest days of the year, there were estimates of 140,000 passengers that were due to use the airport being affected. The media, aviation sector and public have all watched with interest. Malicious use or otherwise, this is clearly a very serious ongoing issue whereby substantial drones have been used to bring about the temporary closure of two major international airports. Questions have been raised: why was it apparently so easy to shut a British airport with a drone, what controls are there to avoid it happening in the future, and can drones actually co-exist with existing operations in our airspace? To add to the drama, the Heathrow Airport drone sighting followed only days after announcements by the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, of plans for further drone regulation.  In a previous blog of June last year, I set out the current policy and regulatory framework and explained new laws for drone operators. Announced in May 2018, the new laws came into force in part from July 2018 with the remaining provisions coming into force on 30 November 2019[1]. At the time of announcing the new laws, Government said that these new measures, alongside an upcoming draft Drones Bill, would be the first step in setting the UK on a path to be a global leader in the drones use, tackling misuse to build public confidence in drone technology and encourage positive, innovative drone use in the UK – stating ‘ensuring drones are being used safely will pave the way for the devices to play an increasingly important role in society, and demonstrating that the industry can operate safely will be key to its advancement’. So, what’s next for government to ensure this societal and safety objective – and within the context of these drone incidents? Last summer, Government published a consultation paper ‘Taking flight: the future of drones in the UK’, seeking views on proposed legislation regarding the use of drones. Government also released a Drones and Other Unmanned Aircraft Bill impact assessment. The consultation period ran from July to September 2018 and detailed a number of proposed policies, including: a minimum age requirement for operators for small unmanned aircraft; whether the 1km flight restriction around protected aerodromes is sufficient; proposals to mandate and regulate a Flight Information and Notification System (FINS) as part of future unmanned traffic management and airspace modernisation programme; the powers required by enforcement bodies in order to properly police drone use and penalise incorrect use; and counter drone technology system proposals. The consultation also looked ahead on how counter-drone technology could be used as a means of addressing the potential threat malicious misuse of drones can pose; and the estimated growth in numbers of commercial drones in the UK over future years. On 7th January, Government published its response to this consultation. The response outlined government’s decisions, in particular, to legislate to give the police greater powers to tackle drone misuse, including the power to issue on the spot fines, and to better protect airports by extending the area around airports and runways in which drones are banned. There will be new powers for the police to order an operator to ground a drone if it’s deemed necessary. The police will also be able to seize drone parts, to prove the drone has been used to commit a criminal offence. This all builds on the new laws announced last year. The Heathrow drone sighting occurred the day after this government announcement, reinforcing just how important these new measures are and the need to implement them into legislation as soon as practicably possible. By the end of the week, the Aviation Minister, Baroness Sugg met UK airport bosses to discuss the technology already in use and how airports can strengthen their defences. Government has now said that it is considering implementation of military-grade anti-drone equipment at all major UK airports, as well as other critical infrastructure such as power stations and prisons. However, cost will no doubt be an issue. In the aftermath of the Gatwick drone incident, it was reported that the airport installed a £1million protection system, comprising 360-degree radar and thermal imaging systems, as well as a radio jammer. An airport’s security ‘fence’ will no longer be just the standard 1.8m chain link fence around an airport boundary. While big airports like Gatwick and Heathrow may be able to meet the cost of several million for drone protection, smaller operators will not have that luxury, potentially simply shifting the problem to the places that are less able to deal with it. Are these plans enough? Until now, Government has followed a light touch approach and the only legislation that has so far been passed focuses on regulating the drone user. Will this latest round of proposed regulation, combined with that announced last year, provide sufficient checks and controls to mitigate against another Heathrow/Gatwick drone incident? The Aviation Strategy Green Paper consultation ‘Aviation 2050 — the future of UK aviation consultation’, which commenced in December 2018, and the House of Commons 2nd reading of the Drones (Regulation) Bill 2017-19, which is expected sometime this year, should build on this work to date. As drones continue to play an increasingly important role in our society there will be pressures placed on our airspace and there is a growing need to understand how current users and new users (drones and other unmanned aircraft) can co-exist, and co-exist in an already constrained environment. The potential of drone technology to aid the way we live, work and play is wide-ranging, offering so much more than solely a recreational application. The Heathrow/Gatwick incidents must not prejudice its future. What is certain is that regulation and policy must continue to play catch-up, and then in consultation with industry, anticipate innovations in advancing technologies; safety must continue to be its focus. This includes aerodrome safeguarding and facilitating an airspace that can benefit all. Failure to do so will likely lead to another airport shutdown, or at its worst, a major aviation disaster.   [1] Announced 30 May 2018. In force in part from 30 July 2018 with the remaining from 30 November 2019, in an amendment to the Air Navigation Order 2016 (The Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2018.  


3D printing in construction, health and manufacturing
It’s one of those internet memes that appears on social media every once in a while, but it’s hard to track down the first iteration but it essentially goes like this: It gets a chuckle from me every time, swiftly followed by memories of the clunking staccato rhythm of loading a floppy disk into my first PC home (it still doesn’t beat the noise of loading a cassette tape-based game into the old BBC Acorns but I fear I may be showing my age now). Nostalgic memories aside, the meme confirms that 3D printing is slowly becoming a well-established, socially recognised technology medium. It’s a technology that is on the cusp of simultaneously shaping multiple industries and is destined to change the definition of design, manufacturing, construction, retail, medicine and space exploration. It’s also one of those technologies that I’m a self-confessed fan of and follow its progress as avidly as some like to watch their local team play football. This blog sets out how 3D printing will soon impact on three industries – construction, retail, and health, and how it will become as standard as the floppy disc drive once was!   Construction Industrial 3-D printing is at a tipping point, about to go mainstream in a big way. Most executives and many engineers don’t realise it, but this technology has moved well beyond prototyping, rapid tooling, trinkets, and toys. Harvard Business Review   Image Source: Total Kustom The construction industry has been doing the same thing for well over a hundred years now. Houses for example are still very much set to rectangular standardised plans, mostly built from single materials joined together by mortar and nails, and constructed over a number of weeks. Not for much longer. Say hello to the Rudenko 3D printer which is a gantry-based concrete extrusion printer. Rudenko is one of a growing number of start-up companies using concrete to print structures such as the above example of a castle, or the World’s first 3D printed hotel suite. The castle was very much a proof of concept for the makers and took around 3 months to print back in 2014. However the technology is moving fast. How fast? Well the below example of a 3D printed house prototype was printed earlier this year. But the most impressive part of the house isn’t just the fact that it was 3D printed, it’s that it only took 24 hours to print. It’s no longer a giant leap to imagine a similar system employed by housebuilders in the coming years. If we could turn these systems into a mobile platform (some of which already are), housebuilders could one day park up a printer, programme it with designs for a row of houses (houses which could have been designed by the future residents, to perfectly match their needs and wants) and away it would go. It could greatly speed up house building, which could minimise disruption to the surrounding area and boost affordable housing provision. In addition it could open up a whole new market of custom homes, allowing prospective home owners to tell the housebuilders how they want their house to look and what the layout should be.    Its potential for house builders is obvious but it could go much further than that. Such a system could also be deployed to disaster zones to quickly build shelters to house those who have lost their homes.   Manufacturing & Retail Image Source: PC Advisor Any rail traveller or music lover knows it’s far more convenient and easier to simply print your tickets rather than collecting them at the station or waiting for them to arrive in the post. Convenience can be a killer of the high street shop however. Just as the rise of the digitally downloaded album or movie saw a corresponding fall in high street sales and ultimately a swathe of retailers like HMV closing stores, other retailers could soon feel the effects of 3D printing as it will ultimately change the way we purchase our goods. This would foreseeably have a knock-on effect on supply lines and the need for a physical high street presence. With more and more materials being developed for use with 3D printing and more 3D printers having the capability to print multiple materials simultaneously,  the idea of on-demand printing of products no longer seems to far-fetched. Home 3D printing has many advantages over the more traditional retail models. Why go to the shops to replace the broken door handle when you could just print a replacement at home? Or why stand in the cold and rain waiting for the latest iPhone when you could just pay apple direct for a download link and print it yourself? And even if the convenience of not having to physically go to the shops isn’t a selling point for consumers, the ability to then customise those products are virtually limitless. Imagine being able to print a pair of shoes that are customised - from the colour and style right down to a perfect fit for your foot.  Health 3D printing is making a noticeable impact in hospitals across the world. In Birmingham for example, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital recently announced that it is saving an average of 3 to 4 hours and £20,000 per surgery by printing 3D models of patients’ organs using their new in-house 3D printer so that doctors and surgeons can see what needs doing before ever picking up a scalpel. Final thoughts If I were to take one thing away from this blog, it’s that I’m going to be buying a 3D printer for my daughter for Christmas soon. Why? Because we are in the early days of 3D printing and like my old BBC Acorn, they are expensive and have limited functionality. However it’s those limitations that encouraged the Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Tim Berners-Lee’s of the world to start playing with the technology, developing new programming languages and new ways of using it. It’s my feeling that it will be the kids of today who grow up with these 3D printers in their homes and schools who will really push the technology in the next 10/20 years - and jobs in the industry will increase in number exponentially. It’s a technology that is here, and must not be ignored.