Prohibitions on drone operations along air traffic service (ATS) routes, beyond visual line of sight operations (BVLOS), shedding of items or sprinkling during flight, towing operations, artistic and formation flights along with procedural and licensing requirements and respect for privacy regulations are all key barriers to drone operation market progress, according to a new report from PwC and Agoria (https://www.pwc.be/en/documents/20180518-drone-study.pdf)
At the same time, a liberal approach to providing exemptions to the regulations has proved to be a key enabler, according to the report.
“We distinguish two main enablers in current Belgian drone legislation that have a positive impact on commercial drone operations,” said the report. “The first is the exemptions listed in the drone legislation and the second is the possibility for deviation…When the safety of the airspace, individuals and goods on the ground can be ensured, the Minister, his delegate or the Director-General can grant a deviation of either the prohibition of a drone application or the requirements of a permit. This means that, when the right guarantees are provided, drones can be used for a freight parcel delivery, a class 1 RPA can fly above the 90 meter AGL limit or a drone can even go BVLOS during a flight. The Minister hasn’t yet introduced a framework as to which possible deviations can be considered acceptable or which provisions aren’t eligible for deviation. Every deviation is therefore, until such a framework is issued, assessed on a case-by-case basis, depending on the guarantees provided and the specifics of the operation. The Minister can also grant a deviation from the conditions in the Royal Decree for operations with regard to the public good (for example traffic supervision or environmental monitoring).”
The report also highlights the evolving nature of drone legislation in Belgium.
“Although basic rules are in place, the legal framework around drones is still evolving. With great technology comes great responsibility: flying a drone not only implies compliance with general regulations around drone use, but also with rules on privacy and security. Further evolution in these relatively new regulations can cause ambiguity, resulting in uncertainty and conflicting guidelines. Cooperation and alignment between various Belgian regulators is therefore essential. As in other areas, drone use will benefit from a harmonised, EU-wide legal framework. Once these laws are in place and as the technology continues to evolve, we’re confident that organisations will look to the skies and that drone technology will become an integral part of standard business operations.”
The report writers suggest the drone industry has a current potential of more than EUR 400, measured over a year.
|Sector (2016)||Value ( EUR million)|
|Energy and utilities||23.3|
|Entertainment and media||45.7|
|Transport and logistics||43.6|
* Values presented in this table correspond with the 2016 value of businesses and labour in each industry that may be replaced by drone powered solutions, according to PwC and Agoria research.
The report also highlights the research work underway in Belgium to develop UTM concepts. For example, DronePort’s 15-hectare research and aerospace facility aims to become one of Europe’s leading UASs test and business centres, with extensive testing possibilities and an ecosystem of research, start-ups and corporations. Other Belgian initiatives include Drone Valley in the south of the country with the establishment of a UAS airworthiness test facility for drone safety, durability and cybersecurity. In Ostend, the H3-One Drone Port aims to optimise drone operations and help boost all aspects of development of the new aviation market, revitalising the airport and surrounding area. Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek11 (VITO) has been at the forefront of drone experimentation for over 15 years – UTM company Unifly is a spin-off of VITO.
The report also highlights the work being undertaken by Orange Belgium to research the use of mobile telephone networks as a basis for UTM technologies.
“Since 2015, Orange Belgium has been playing an active role in drone use cases requiring cellular technology… An expert group, including a number of academic and industrial partners, was founded under the name ‘ar4Gus’ to investigate signal strength and brainstorm on more use cases. Several flights over the Belgian territory using specialised equipment showed that the Orange network had very good signal strength up to 300 metres. And that interference from other radio signals, like wifi was quite low. Orange has become a preferred partner for drone use cases. There are three major ways in which cellular technology can be a solution for drone usage:
- Tracking and tracing of drones and including them in the U-space (meaning that drones are considered to be aircraft that need to integrate into manned and unmanned (below 150m) airspaces).
- The real-time transfer of data over the cellular network, from very low bandwidth sensor data to drone telematics and up to 4K video images that require very high data capacity over the air.
- Looking at Command and Control (C2) of the drone in real time, which requires very low latencies of around 1ms. In addition to having very good relationships with many stakeholders in the drone industry in Belgium and Europe, Orange is involved in three innovation programmes studying the use of cellular technology for drone use cases:
- AGILE, an H2020 project that sees Orange involved in a pilot in the Port of Antwerp where drones are being equipped with a gateway to send data from different types of sensors in real time over the cellular network, thereby monitoring radioactivity levels, dangerous gases and water quality.
- 5Guards, an Innoviris/VLAIO project which aims to demonstrate the use of 5G and network slices for safety and security and search and rescue purposes.
- PODIUM, an H2020 SESAR project for the large-scale demonstration of unmanned traffic management (UTM) in France, the Netherlands and Denmark. Orange is also working closely with several partners for use cases in Construction, Building Inspection, Agriculture and Healthcare.”