01 Sep 2018

Safety leads the way in the world of drones

Safety was on the agenda at the FAI International Drones Conference and Expo in Lausanne today. Conference heard from eight speakers in a busy morning session which focused on the issues around organising airspace to ensure safe operation of drones wherever they fly.

Yves Morier from the European Aviation Safety Agency took the floor first, explaining the deep work involved in developing airspace for drones across Europe. This is not theoretical work, he stressed: “U-Space will be a reality by 2019 with a step-by-step regulatory approach.”

Florent Béron from Switzerland’s SkyGuide reinforced that message. Switzerland currently sees 3,500 flights every 24 hours, he said. “The challenge is welcoming drones into this sky safely and efficiently.” The technology to do that is “already there” – the focus is on developing standards and a “legal framework” to open up the airspace to drones. 

Drones are “revolutionising” the traditional approach to airspace, explained Benoit Curdy from the Global UTM Association (GUTMA). And it is happening now, across the world. “The vision is unified traffic management, digitalised, on all levels, from local to national and international.” 

The USA was showing how this could be done, he added. The LAANC program - Low Altitude Authorisation and Notification Capability – is being rolled out on a test level around airports in the US already. This creates a “3D map” around airports, and allows “digital access” to the airspace by all airspace users, whatever they fly, manned or un-manned. 

Several speakers set out technical answers to tracking and monitoring drones in air space, and examined potential solutions to avoiding collisions and staying safe. The focus in the industry is currently on using the mobile-phone network to provide easy access for thousands of users. Discussion ranged broadly, from the impact on traditional air sports and the potential costs for future airspace users, to cyber security and future-proofing.

The morning session finished with an inspiring presentation from Jonathan Evans from Skyward. A former military helicopter pilot Evans set the development of drones in context: First came boats, then railways, then cars, then aviation. Now drones would be the next big revolution that will connect people.

“We are at the stage of starting to build the intersections in the sky. We have not solved it yet, but we are working on it,” he said.

Like global networks and ideas that had developed before, from establishing a unified Time convention in 1884 to mobile networks today, one of the main issues had always been “standardisation”. “It seems like a huge hurdle, but this is where we are. Once we standardise the ‘licence plates’ of drones so they can operate internationally then that will open up everything.”

Photo credit: FAI/Marcus King

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