Airspace World: ‘There will be no industry within two years without scalability – EU Drone Strategy 2.0

By Jenny Beechener

Benoit Curdy from Swiss regulator FOCA said U-space is still only seen as very specific airspaces, whereas “the goal is to scale. If we don’t achieve this within two years, we won’t be discussing this anymore as the industry will no longer be here.” Speaking at the World Airspace EU Drone Strategy 2.0 panel on 8 March, he added the money around the industry is available, but what is key to any investment is that you know what legislation you have. There is also societal acceptance for reducing the volume of road transport, supporting medical services and increasing drone services. Session moderator Eammon Brennan said the EU has now done the ground work for this, however three months after U-space regulations came into force in January 2023, the first U-space regulations have yet to be introduced. Jan-Eric Putz, CEO of UTM provider Droniq echoed this: “The EU drone strategy is on right track, now it is up to every nation to put it into place in line with the EU guidelines.” He said this makes predicting future income hard as U-space service costs are still unknown. “I know my costs, but I don’t know what additional costs I will have from services and these have to go on top of my invoice.”

Switzerland identifies digitisation as key to scaling the industry, working specifically with open standards, transparent processes and automated testing as part of its Swiss U-space Implementation (SUSI) initiative. “It is super-important not to digitise and then check everything manually,” said Benoit Curdy, calling for more attention to paid to governance of data exchange, warning that otherwise “this could come back to bite us”.

Eammon Brennan questioned states’ lack of progress despite the EU’s clear lead and support from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). “We are well ahead of the Americans, why is not happening?” While DG MOVE’s Joachim Lücking accused states of “a lack of expectation” in relation to the EU legislation, he nevertheless predicted several states will introduce regulations this year, including Switzerland.

The policy also has the support of the military, for example, “it will help low level military drones and aircraft operations and support military mission effectiveness,” according to Christophe Vivier from the European Defence Agency (EDA): “We don’t mind who provides the service. We also see opportunities for dynamic airspace reconfiguration.”

Munish Kumar from Eurocontrol asked: “We cover the supply side in a lot of detail, but we lack sufficient information on the demand side for certification. Have we done enough as a community to engage and attract on the demand side?” According to Droniq the process is still too complicated for the users. “If you want to speed up everything in drone operations, you don’t necessarily need U-space, you have to a minimum viable level of safety, and give the drone economy the air to breathe to set up their own standards,” said Jan-Eric Pultz.

Benoit Curdy added: “The challenge the regulation doesn’t solve is integration. Still segregated world. This makes it hard to designate U-space airspaces. It has to be economically driven. Segregation is a good first try, but it’s not conducive to what we want.”

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