The year of UAVs for Europe

March 28, 2016  - By
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The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs) sector is a dynamic GNSS-enabled sector globally and Europe is no exception. In January I attended a UAV event at the Royal Military Academy in Brussels. The focus of the two-day meeting was on small commercial and recreational remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) that are rapidly populating Europe’s airspace.

Currently, there is no European legislation that governs their use in conjunction with general aviation and, typically, national legislation varies across the member states. Regulators are trying to play catch-up.

One interesting EU project trying to tackle this situation is DroneRules.EU. Philippe Carous of SpaceTec Partners said the project’s main objective was to raise general awareness of the rules governing RPAS across the commercial sector and the general public. Speaking as an occasional drone operator – I own a Parrot 2.0 – I must admit I was oblivious of the legal minefield I am potentially entering every time I fly my ‘Boy’s Toy’ around the garden!

The project covers three main areas: privacy and data protection; safety and operation; and insurance and liability. The plan is to establish a set of useful tools on a web portal including awareness, training tools and online resource covering rules at national level plus regulatory developments. The website should be available mid-2016 at www.drone-rules.eu.

Rachel Finn of Trilateral Research, a partner in the DroneRules.eu project, talked about privacy and data protection issues which bring some complex rules and liabilities into play as drones are increasingly becoming data collection devices. The company undertook a survey of users for the European Commission and identified private users as the least regulated and most at risk of breaching the rules. Commercial users were seen as medium risk. “Using the same drone with the same payload in different contexts can raise different or new privacy and data protection issues,” said Rachel. Each mission may need to be individually risk assessed.

Listening to the discussion here, it seemed to me that privacy issues could effectively turn any urban area into a ‘no-go’ zone for civil drones let alone other considerations on safety and so on.

The Brussels conference was organised by UVS International, whose president Peter van Blyenburgh is a blunt-speaking and passionate advocate for the civil RPAS operating community in Europe.

On 4 March a further workshop took place at EUROCONTROL headquarters in Brussels with the purpose of discussing the future working arrangements and work programme for the development of RPAS standards. Peter van Blyenburgh tells me that not a single RPAS operator had been invited to air their views at this forum.

From the discussions at the workshop it was clear, according to van Blyenburgh, that international, European and national standards organisations are not coordinating their work and consequently there is significant duplication and wasted effort. However it was decided that a single working group will be established to tackle standards work for all sizes of RPAS and terms of reference for this group should be finalised by the middle of June 2016.

During the workshop  van Blyenburgh expressed his views on the absolute necessity that RPAS operators and new disruptive technology companies must participate in the work on standards and as there was a large number of light RPAS (<25 kilograms) already flying, it was also imperative to tackle the standards applicable to them as a priority.

Van Blyenburgh takes the view that if the RPAS community is not careful and proactive, their commercial future may be set by standards produced by the traditional airspace players that are not directly involved with their specific community, nor really understand it. It is hard to disagree with his views here.

“Of course, at the same time, the RPAS communities should both remember that airspace safety is a common responsibility that should be proportionately shared by all RPAS community members,” he adds. “Defining this proportionality will be one of the keys to success.”

Polish solution?

If  regulations are lacking, technical solutions are ready to roll. One European initiative based in Poland seems to have a viable monitoring and control system developed for drones/ RPAS: The Drone Monitoring System (PSMD) was presented by Justyna Zdanowska of the Grupa Dron House S.A.

The Polish solution can monitor drones in near real-time (the company claims a maximum delay of one second) using GSM and/ or GPS technologies and has the ability to manage the drone online through an application. They say this is the first successful development of such technology that is operational and ready for implementation. It has already attracted the interest of some major aerospace players, drone users and the authorities as the system could solve the issue of uncontrolled flights and other problems.

“We offer a complete, ready-to-use system that will radically improve the safety of air traffic, because the drone market is developing at a dynamic rate in an uncontrolled manner,” says Justyna Zdanowska.

The technology also has a huge capacity with up to 18 000 devices controlled and/ or monitored by a single base station at a given location. This should allow full monitoring and identification of unmanned devices.

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