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EDS 2019: Drones in European cities.Urban Air Mobility.

Impressive projects and experiments. Local engagement for social acceptance. Safety certification?

The European Drone Summit Conference held last week in Stuttgart gathered a rich panel of high-profile speakers in the still-small-world of urban air mobility, or unmanned aviation, in urban areas. Below are some take-aways, and for more information, feel free to contact us at:

European initiatives & regulation

“U-Space serves the Decarbonization and Digitization agenda of Europe, and is therefore supported by the European Commission” was a key message of Koen de Vos, Directorate General for Mobility and Transport at the European Commission.

Alexandra Florin, Executive Directorate of EASA, drilled into the implementation and next steps of the regulatory framework.

The Delegated and Implementing Acts entered into force on 1st July 2019. They will become applicable on 1st July 2020. The transition period will end 1st July 2022.

The application of the European regulation, including the registration of all drones of 500g +, can be an important task for the national regulators. In Germany for example, the implementation of the EU regulation must be coordinated among the different Länder.

In terms of next steps, EASA is on schedule to deliver key complementary publications on the Specific and Certified categories:

  • Oct’ 2019: a Decision on SORA applicable to the Specific category

  • Oct’2019: Opinion on Urban VLOS and Rural BVLOS

  • Oct’2020: NPA with regards to the certified category for small package delivery and UAM Urban Air Mobility, i.e. flying-taxis

With regards to U-Space, the European Unmanned Traffic Management, EASA is planning to publish its Opinion by Nov’2019 with a target for Adoption by the Commission by end 2020.

U-Space or Unmanned Traffic Management

Airmap, Altitude Angel… but also Airbus, Boeing…UTM is not yet fully defined but the market place is already busy.

U-Space or UTM attracts interest from many players who each want a piece of the future cake! Airmap and Altitude Angel are well-known players in this arena and delivered an update on their activities. But also, Airbus and Boeing Next clearly stated their claim, reshuffling their traditional positioning within the manned value chain as airplane manufacturers.

Certification or a level of safety assurance one day?

Air traffic management plays a key role in the safe & secure organisation of air traffic. Today it is performed by humans, the air traffic controllers. Tomorrow, traffic control among drones, and more broadly the sharing of the airspace between multiple manned and unmanned users, will be automated. Considering the future role played by U-Space in the safe integration of drones into the airspace, one can only assume that eventually U-Space systems will be subject to safety and integrity requirements similar to that applied to drones. When the risk is high, for example near airports or above dense cities, requirements in the future may be similar to certification in terms of maximum acceptable probability of failure.

Medical delivery projects

Rescue services and humanitarian projects in Africa: Unicef Malawi test corridor, the Lake Victoria Challenge, Wingcopter…But also commercial enterprise Zipline

Unicef BVLOS testing corridor in Malawi and their related activities, the Lake Victoria Challenge, the Wingcopter cargo VTOL… a number of solutions and programmes have emerged to deliver medical products either on a routine basis or in case of crisis to populations in unprivileged or difficult-to-reach areas. On the commercial and well-funded side, Zipline has reached routine commercial operations in Rwanda and now Ghana.

The flightpaths are above remote areas with limited populations, and in the air, the airspace is not as busy as in Europe. The risk level of such operations is modest so that they can already be implemented even if technologies have not reached full maturity.

Urban medical delivery projects in Europe… specific or certified?

At the other end of the spectrum in terms of aviation risk, a few short range BVLOS experiments are taking place in dense urban areas in Europe with interfacing with U-Space services and/or air navigation service providers ANSPs. In particular:

  • Matternet has accumulated 5000 flights in a densely populated environment in Switzerland, in partnership with the Swiss Post and hospitals.

  • The Helicus initiative is due to demonstrate inter-hospitals medical transport in the city of Antwerp the week of September 23. Helicus succeeded in embarking multiple hospitals of Antwerp into the project and set-up a consortium of solid, high profile partners in Belgium.

Questionmark is whether those “small (medical or not medical) package delivery” operations in a city environment will eventually fall into the “specific” or “certified” category. Certification could be required based on the ground risk, i.e. fatality of a non-involved person in case of failure. This would certainly have an impact on the business case in terms of time to market and economical viability, especially when alternative modes of transport are motorcycles and Deliveroo-type of services.

Urban Air Mobility projects. Volocopter actually impressive.

The need for flying taxis can be questioned. The business case and financial equation can be questioned as well. Regardless, Volocopter delivered a very solid keynote. They want to be first on the market, even if there is a pilot onboard their eVTOL, and are seeking certification with EASA as a manned platform, of a new sort since it is powered by electric propulsion. Their approach to safety is wise. They understand that the general public accepts a certain death toll on the road, but are used to higher standards in the air and are not likely to lower their “air expectations” for drones.

Social acceptance

Reach out to the public, engage with stakeholders, develop use cases that make sense for the public… Social acceptance is key to the development of the industry and urban air mobility in particular. A European MP reminded all clearly that safety, security and privacy are of paramount importance to citizens.

THE DRONE OFFICE is a consulting and services company specialising in drones & robots, based in London and Paris. We offer public and private clients independent, solution-agnostic expertise. Drones are part of the autonomous vehicle transformation and our first objective is to help clients develop a safe and innovative drone roadmap. Drones are also part of the digital transformation. So, beyond safety, our objective is to help clients transform disruption into a competitive advantage and value creation. Equally important, we share with clients a vision of technology with a sense of purpose, that truly adds value for everyone. Our services cover building and updating our client’s inhouse expertise and foundation knowledge; assessing the state-of-the-art in their industry; pilot-project design and planning; support to the selection of technologies, suppliers, and partners; project management; scaling-up from pilot-project to routine operations.


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