Amsterdam Drone Week: Closing the gaps between operators, regulators and governments

“We must consider the commercial pace – it will need a lot of capital to create jobs and commercial opportunities and without clarity on the timeline and certainty of capability around the regulatory framework it’s difficult for the investment community to look at the drone industry as an investible (sic) space,” said Bobby Healy, CEO at Manna Aero at the Open source as a foundation to interoperability panel of Amsterdam Drone Week. It’s not a technical or regulatory issue, he said, it’s about developing a simple statement that identifies when populations can expect drone deliveries at scale.

Matthew Satterley of Wing was asked about the gap between implementing the U-space regulation in Europe and the start of commercial drone deliveries. “We are looking for Member States to set up approvals processes and perhaps DG Move may consider relaxing some of the certification requirements for U-space services,” he said. ”But all-in-all the Commission has struck a pretty artful balance in this regulation and we are supportive of the path forward.”

A key to further progress, he said, will be for Member States to ensure digitisation and automation of certain airspace information is undertaken. It is important that the pilot can access the key airspace data in a standardised format before the drone flies. “Once you get that information you can expect to see U-space and the drone economy flourish,” he said.

Understanding the technical and financial needs of operators has been a key element of two pioneering national U-space programmes in Europe, the “U-space Together” programme in France and the Swiss U-Space Implementation (SUSI) programme. “If we want U-space to work we need to deliver benefits and value to the final users – the drone operators,” said Antoine Martin of the French Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC). “We need to deliver services and information which exactly fits their business needs.” Within the scope of “U-space Together” the DGAC has assessed the different business modes of U-space providers, analysing fee strategies that will be applied by different partners. “We will help them develop and assess those business strategies,” he said, though added it was also important not to make the final U-space solution too specific at the local level because interoperability was key. The DGAC will launch this December a new tender to provide U-space services throughout France at low altitude – in both controlled and uncontrolled airspace.

Francine Zimmermann, Manager, Innovation and Digitalization Unit at the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) also highlighted the importance of regulators and industry working closely together and underlined the importance of standards in this process. A drone operator and FOCA spent many hours ensuring the operator’s parachute-based safety solution as part of its SORA application met the required safety standard – but with the new ASTM parachute standard available the applicant merely has to certify it complies.

Nicolas Eertmans, Policy Officer at the European Commission, spoke of the Commission’s aims in establishing the new U-space regulation.  This was not so much about establishing a common U-space services market but supporting the delivery of more complex UAS services across Europe in a standardised way. The aim is for operators to fly across Europe with a single U-space contract in the same way as mobile phone users are contracted to a single provider but can use their phones wherever they are in the continent . “Operators with resources would also have the option to be certified U-space service provider and could deliver these services where they need it for themselves,” he said.

(Image: Shutterstock)

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