Aviation Airspace May Soon See Fewer Helicopters 

Traffic Advisory System (TAS)

Aviation airspace may include more drones for unmanned aerial missions 

Helicopters are not always ideal. They are expensive, and maintenance costs can be high. Additionally, their safety records are considered marginal in certain industries. But their usefulness is hard to beat; they’ve been invaluable for organizations like law enforcement, offshore operations, and critical care patient transport. Soon, however, aviation airspace may see fewer helicopters and more drones as the UAV industry continues to demonstrate its competence for mission-specific activities.   

Depending on the industry, drones make more sense in certain operations. Search and rescue, criminal pursuit, natural disaster surveillance – do these activities need an actual person in the sky? They only require a bird-eye view.    

It’s also hard to miss the potential cost savings in the drone vs. helicopter discussion. A decent used helicopter can cost millions of dollars, while buying a new one will set you back much more. That’s only talking about the purchase price; let’s talk about operating costs. Again, they can cost millions of dollars annually, depending on fleet size. It takes a very expensive village to keep a helicopter in the air.   

On the flip side, a high-functioning new drone costs about $20,000, and in certain situations, it can be even more effective than its helicopter counterpart. I say this lovingly; I have a long history with EMS helicopter operations, so I know their worth in the critical environment of life-saving missions.   

In certain situations, it makes more sense to keep the personnel on the ground and send the camera on the mission. For example, Hamilton County (Ohio) Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey called their helicopters “flying dinosaurs” as she announced that their department would sell them and replace them with drone-equipped patrol cars.  

The drones allow law enforcement officers more flexibility and faster response times than launching a helicopter. Additionally, pilots can initiate drone flights in weather that would otherwise ground a helicopter. The faster a drone can get in the air, the less distance it will have to travel to find what it’s looking for.  

There is no doubt that drones have a specific and important purpose, but right now, there is an abundance of aviation airspace, and there’s room for everyone. In the meantime, it’s interesting to see how technological advances are reshaping our industry. Hopefully, we will all still have jobs when the dust settles. 

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