Karim Cosslett / January 22, 2020

Drones in Europe: What is really going on?

Karim Cosslett By Karim Cosslett

On 14th and 15th January 2020 SOARIZON's Head of Growth, Karim Cosslett, attended the 8th European Civil RPAS Operators and Operations Forum, known as RPAS CivOps 2020 in The Hague, Netherlands. 

Hosted by Blyenburgh & Co, and moderated throughout by Peter van Blijenburgh, the theme of the Civil RPAS Operators and Operations Forum this year was “Harmonising National Approaches to EU Regulation Implementation”.  Over the two days, there were 39 speakers – of which I was one – talking on topics surrounding several key areas of industry advancement and growth; the speakers focused on the following areas:

  • Operations

  • Pilot training and qualification

  • Economic and Societal benefits

  • Test ranges

  • ICAReS Cluster

  • SORA

  • U-Space: The EU Approach

  • EU Regulation Implementation

Overall, the two days were very productive. I listened to great presentations on a wide array of important subjects, such as BVLOS experimentation, UAS certification, RPAS potential for EU border surveillance and the challenge of coordinating national approaches. 

The most interesting presentations for me were about organisational learning and experiences when applying UAS to real-world rigours.  An example of such is the International Emergency Drones Organization (IEDO) (emergencydrones.org) who are a worldwide representation and non-profit association of more than 360 first responders drone pilots and 15 emergency organisations from 37 countries on five continents; all with one ‘simple’ aim:  ‘save more lives with drones’.

Reflecting on the conference, I feel that there are a great number of stakeholders and interested actors in the UAS space, but that aligning them to mutual effect is the real challenge – not the technological or even public acceptance. 

Working collectively in a common direction is the issue before us.  Over the past few years, regulators and governments have worked more closely than ever to align and find a way forward, to ensure a proactive regulatory approach towards the application of UAS.  Not working in a common direction will lead to a disparate and ever diverse set of regulations, laws, guidance, and standards across manufacturers, operators, trainers, and the supply and operational chain; this is a critical factor to success.

Plenty of organisations need the ‘UAS project’ to succeed and will drive forward with technological proofs of concept and news announcements that are effectively meaningless without common acceptance.  While these aspects are substantially important and funds are being invested globally into a huge spectrum of capabilities I’m convinced that, without proper direction and a universally agreed roadmap (which is within the gift of the industry to shape for itself) we may work in such different directions that our shared end goal becomes more difficult to achieve.

It is generally accepted that the societal benefits of RPAS/UAS, when leveraged fully, will realise significant real-world achievements; use-cases such as emergency response, surveillance, and observation for incident management and delivery of commercial parcels, are all promising applications for the technology. Also, UAS reduces the residual risk to people inspecting or surveying in challenging or dangerous environments and contributes towards the reduction of carbon emissions.

The short-term aspiration for the industry must be, as this conference title suggests, harmonising the individual National approaches to regulation, but in a manner that unlocks the potential of UAS and promotes open and collaborative development, and shared success to advance the wider utility of UAS.

In summary, the RPAS CivOps 2020 conference was an interesting and forthright exchange of ideas, presented by a wide range of the sector across many nations and approaches, from the regulators to academia, to operators.  The unifying thread that ran throughout was the need to collaborate more and to exchange ideas in a much more free-flowing way than Working Groups and Industry Bodies that meet a few times a year, with little clear direction, strategy or mandate.  

My suggestion to accomplish this is – initially - a European-wide, open consultation, led by an appropriately capable European body, to articulate and accumulate ideas, suggestions, thoughts, learning, and feedback. All stakeholders (including the public) in the development and growth of the industry (positive or negative) should be invited to comment.  I would challenge the EU Nations in the first instance, to aligning the application of the Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) across each of their national legislative architectures, so that SORA means SORA, as written or agreed to.  Wavering and variable laws and regulations will only help to deter, frustrate and delay UAS sector growth and the wider uses of such revolutionary technological capabilities for good.

Finally, as a sector, we must learn to listen, appropriately orientate ourselves as an industry, make effective decisions collectively and act in a way that realises the full potential of the amazing drone capabilities we have and continue to develop.

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