Perspectives for aviation
Many of us have heard about cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum or Litecoin. They've recently gained big coverage due to increases (and decreases) in their market value, as well as suffering a fair share of controversies and scandals. But how can this relate to the aviation industry? Are we about to book travel, buy aircraft or ATM systems with these new currencies? It's certainly possible, but there is some way to go before it becomes an everyday event. Indeed, we think there might be even more interesting uses within aviation, and these lie in the underlying technologies – blockchain and smart contracts.
Blockchain and smart contracts share many features, such as inherent security, decentralisation and cryptography. Both make it very difficult to alter historic records. They also have some differences, allowing them to 'specialise' for different parts of the system. Put simply, they facilitate, verify and store transactions and contracts between two parties securely and quickly without the need for a central entity having control of the whole system.
What does this have to do with aviation? Let's consider an open market of autonomous UASs (drones) used for commercial and public purposes delivering packages and medicine, surveying infrastructure, supporting agricultural processes, and providing public safety services. Such a market has the potential to be extremely dynamic and time-sensitive, with many parties trying to reach their (often different) goals. Security, safety and speed in such a market would be vital for operations without conflict and accidents. How can we trust that the drone is certified to carry out its task? How can we securely submit flight data? How can we securely create contracts for goods and services? How can we prove where a drone was at a certain time? These and many more questions might be asked by interested parties but also by the general public.
In today's world where we place more and more emphasis on data security and privacy, in the world of hacking and data breaches, relying on a potentially autonomous market (or its underlying technology) may sound deeply disturbing to many people. 'What if?' might be the most asked question, with few definite answers and solutions.
To mitigate many of the issues mentioned above, and to prevent cyber-generated accidents, new processes and tools are being developed. Ranging from training and certification to registration and data encryption, everyone is doing their best to make the drone market a safe and beneficial place for all.
Could blockchain and smart contracts be the answer to some of these questions? Certainly! Will it answer them all? Absolutely not. Could it underpin a decentralised market? Maybe. These technologies may bring us safely and more securely to the world of tomorrow, and they are available today. Bringing this to market in a highly regulated, safety-critical industry is the challenge.
For more information on this complex emerging topic contact Jakub Hajko.