DNN: 21 June 2016

Tuesday, June 21, 2016
by Cameron Shelley

When people think of delivery drones, they likely picture a small aircraft bringing them some tacos or the laundry soap they forgot at the store.  Of course, drones can also be used to deliver things for people whose needs are much more basic.

For example, a company called Zipline is gearing up to make drone deliveries of human blood to remote clinics in Rwanda.  Like many remote health centers, these clinics have limited supplies of blood and poor refrigeration facilities to keep any that is on hand.  Better to store the blood centrally and deliver it to remote locations on demand.

Zipline had to design its own drones for the purpose since most commercial models are unable to fly far enough or to deal with the challenging terrain.

European rescue workers are practicing how to guide drones to scenes of emergency.  Fire fighters from several countries recently attended a training session in Denmark where they learned to fly drones under challenging conditions.  Initially, the task of such drones will largely be to facilitate assessment of emergency situations, such as collapsed buildings.  Later, delivery of medicines may happen as well.

At 10 a.m. this morning in Ireland, a drone delivered a bit of politics along with its medical supplies.  The activist group Woman on Waves flew a drone from the Republic into neighboring Northern Ireland, carrying a cargo of abortion pills.  The occasion was planned as a protest against restrictions on access to abortions and abortion drugs in both jurisdictions.  

Since the drone remained in sight of its pilot and was not used for a commercial transaction, no license was needed for its flight.  Police at the scene recorded the event but took no action.

The last example raises an interesting question: Under what circumstances might a drone delivery, or other performance, be considered a protected form of free expression?  I think that the answer lies outside the realm of aerospace regulators.