Study Quantifies Benefits from Beyond-Line-of-Sight use of UAVs

06 March 2015

AeroVironment Puma being hand-launched
Photo: Sgt. Bobby Yarbrough - Crop of 130304-M-DE426-001.JPG. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Aviation Safety Management Systems Ltd (ASMS) teamed with Andrew Shelley Economic Consulting to quantify the potential economic benefits to New Zealand from allowing beyond-line-of-sight use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for pasture management, forestry, and monitoring electricity infrastructure. The report, commissioned by Callaghan Innovation, estimates that benefits to New Zealand could be in the order of $151m - $189m per year.

The Civil Aviation regulatory framework in New Zealand currently requires the pilot of a UAV to maintain visual contact with the aircraft at all times, or otherwise to have an observer who maintains visual contact, to ensure that appropriate action can be taken to avoid collision with any manned aircraft. Beyond-line-of-sight use provides opportunities for additional economic benefits to be realised, but that will require additional measures to be in place to ensure that collisions do not occur. Research and practical experience suggest that line of sight is restricted to a distance of from 500m to approximately 1.4km.

The largest gains from beyond line-of-sight use of UAVs arise in the forestry sector, where the use of UAVs for pest and disease monitoring and control has the potential for gains of at least $72m-$95m per year. The nature of forest plantations is such that line-of-sight use of UAVs is highly restricted and little benefit can be gained. When beyond-line-of-sight use is adopted, benefits from enhanced control of Dothistroma in radiata pine plantations could be as much as $69m per year, and improved control of the eucalyptus tortoise beetle could generate a further net benefit of $26m. Control of other pests and diseases would generate further benefits.

The gains from UAV use in pasture management are potentially very large, but the majority of those benefits can be obtained from line-of-sight use. Given assumed high take-up rates in dairy, but relatively small farm sizes that can be covered relatively efficiently with line-of-sight operation, the gains from beyond-line-of-sight use in dairy are estimated to be approximately $29m per year. Sheep and beef farming is assumed to have limited take-up rates (approximately 20% of farms), but the much larger size of these farms means that the gains are larger at an estimated $38m per year.

The use of UAVs in electricity infrastructure inspection allows for more frequent inspections, better targeted maintenance and reduced outage times. Reduced outage times on the electricity distribution system could provide economic benefits to consumers of from $4m to $19m per year. Reductions in the cost of maintenance would yield approximately another $7m per year. Additional safety benefits occur from avoiding having inspections conducted by low-flying helicopters and reducing the amount of time that linesmen may have to work at height, but these have not been quantified.

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