As drones and UAVs become more common in our airspace, it is time that we are setting the rules for drone flights. What are safe zones to fly, do manned flights take prevalence over unmanned flights and how will they communicate with each other? But maybe more importantly; who will be responsible for drone traffic?
There are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding drone flights. For drone pilots, the Dutch government has implemented stricter rules in order to operate a drone. Pilots need to have a certification and they need to adhere to a lot of regulations, depending on the type of drone they are flying. But there are also drones that are operating independently, using GPS and mobile network connections. In the east of the country, there is a test with a medical drone that flies independently between different hospitals, to test the possibility of medical transport. These drones are controlled via a communications network.
When the low-level airspace becomes denser, does this medical drone gets a higher priority over commercial drones? Another question is that of the Mobile Medical Teams, or Life Liners. How will they be able to fly and avoid mid-air collisions with independent operating drones? And what about the communications network needed to control the drones? What if the connection is lost?
Low level airspace: U-space
That is why, in compliance with EU and EASA regulations, a new controlled airspace is being introduced: U-space. U-space will govern low-level airspace, up to 400 ft, or 120 meters. It is being implemented with the future in mind, when the number of UAV flights will be much higher than now and when there are more independent operating flights. U-space is the regulatory framework of protocols and (communication) standards to make sure that drones can safely use the airspace and communicate with manned ATC and airplanes. As with most EU regulatory implementations, member states have a big say in how it will function within their borders.
Safe zones and responsibility
When it comes to the Netherlands, (regional) governments are starting discussions on how to implement U-space. Main topics in the discussions are safe zones and responsibility. Current regulations on drone flights have designated different areas – mostly around airports, military bases, and over densely populated areas – as no-fly zones for man-operated drones. But when drones will fly mid-distance flights, there have to be more designated areas for drones to fly. The governments of the provinces want to have a say in that. At the same time, they are asking who will be responsible to monitor and enforce these zones. And who will pay for it all.
The Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, tasked with Aviation, is taking the lead in exploring how to implement and regulate U-space and to see what the most viable way is to do so: nationwide or regionally. We are honoured that Adecs Airinfra and partners have been asked to develop realistic scenarios regarding responsibilities, governance, and financing when it comes to U-space. We are looking at all involved entities, to see what the most workable governance and finance solution is to make sure that drones can safely operate within the lower airspace and alongside manned flights.
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