Long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft systems (LE-RPAS) support for humanitarian logistic operations: The current position and the proposed way ahead

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Tatham, Peter
Ball, Catherine
Wu, Yong
Diplas, Peter
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Purpose: While the use of long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft systems (LE-RPAS) is frequently associated with military operations, their core capabilities of long-range, low-cost and high-quality optics and communications systems have considerable potential benefit in supporting the work of humanitarian logisticians. The purpose of this paper is, therefore, to demonstrate how LE-RPAS could be used to improve the logistic response to a rapid onset disaster.

Design/methodology/approach: Using the response to the Cyclone Pam that struck Vanuatu in March 2015 as an example, this paper provides an overview of how LE-RPAS could be used to support the post-disaster needs assessment and subsequent response processes. In addition, it provides a high-level route map to develop the people, process and technology requirements that would support the operational deployment of the LE-RPAS capabilities.

Findings: On the basis of the analysis of the published literature and the resultant assessment of the benefits of LE-RPAS to support humanitarian logistic (HL) operations, it is concluded that a formal “proof of concept” trial should be undertaken, and the results be made available to the humanitarian community.

Research limitations/implications: This paper is conceptual in nature, but has been developed through an analysis of the literature relating to remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) and HLs. A route map through which the paper’s conclusions can be validated is also offered.

Practical implications: LE-RPAS have great potential to provide a swifter understanding of the impact of a disaster, particularly those where the location is remote from the main centres of population. This would allow the affected country’s National Disaster Management Organisation, together with those of supporting countries, to react more efficiently and effectively. In particular, it would allow a swifter transition from a “guess-based” push approach to one that more accurately reflects the disaster’s impact – i.e. a pull-based logistic response.

Social implications: Given the military genesis of RPAS, it will be important to ensure that those engaged in their operation are sensitive to the implications of this. In particular, it will be essential to ensure that any humanitarian operations involving RPAS are undertaken in an ethical way that respects, for example, the privacy and safety of the affected population.

Originality/value: While there is some emerging discussion on the humanitarian-related use of RPAS in the literature, this generally reflects the operation of small aircraft with limited range and payload capabilities. Useful though such RPAS unquestionably are, this paper expands the discussion of how such systems can support the humanitarian logistician by considering the benefits and challenges of operating long-endurance aircraft.

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Journal of Humanitarian Logistics and Supply Chain Management

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Transportation, logistics and supply chains

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