[From an interview with Peter van Blyenburgh, president of UVS International (www.uvs-international.org) which he founded in 1997.]

The real profit lies not in the application of the aircraft but rather in the data collection, processing and analysis…

Your main concern over the past decade has been the international co-creation of rules and regulations. Are you satisfied?

A Never! But we are going in the right direction, especially in Europe. In December 2015, the European Commission submitted its ‘Aviation Package’ proposal to the European Parliament and the European Council for their approval. If the proposal is accepted, EASA will become responsible for the certification of all aircraft, including those weighing less than 150kg. That is the first step towards European harmonisation of the rules and regulations.

Which market size and growth figures are reliable?

A There are no reliable figures so far.

For now, there are only reports published by American companies which are aimed not at unreservedly presenting the facts but rather at dreaming up the largest possible market growth to motivate lobby groups, senators and the industry.

The EU has recently commissioned the Boston Consulting Group to conduct a long-term market research study to give a high-level projection of how the market and its segments look right now and how they will evolve over the next 25 years.

Q Can the professional market grow if the general public doesn’t accept the large-scale use of drones?

A No it can’t. But privacy, to name the most important issue, is not a real problem in the professional market. The rules will be the same as for mobile mapping: people and number plates will be pixelated. National laws could make the rules even stricter. Drones can be equipped with electronic identity (registration) chips containing the drone’s serial number and the owner’s name. When a drone passes over you, you can use an app on your smartphone to view that information. This could make policing easier and facilitate filing a complaint.

Q What is the current focus of the largest, non-military R&D investments?

A The biggest investment is being made in air-traffic management: manned and unmanned aircraft in the same airspace and at airports. In the EU’s Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) programme alone there are 19 projects working on developing innovative technological and operational solutions. The funding amounts to EUR500,000 per project, which is actually a rather low budget. The total sum is enormous when all national and European investments are added together but there is a large degree of overlapping, duplication and re-inventing
the wheel.

Nobody knows what is being done worldwide…

Q Which development will shift everything up a gear?

A We’re now aiming at pushing product safety. UVS International has initiated the RPAS Autopilot Validation Tool Group, which has developed an inspection algorithm for autopilots – one of the most crucial parts of a remotely piloted aircraft. The study group brings together important industry players from Europe as well as Canada, China and the USA. They have determined the required functional capabilities which the algorithm has to fulfil. This model will be integrated in a laptop which will be hooked up to the autopilot of the aircraft that has to be inspected. The laptop will be used to program the various flight missions that the autopilot has to perform. Those missions will be flown virtually and during the flights the autopilot will be presented with internal and external problematic events. How does the autopilot react? How precisely is the flight plan executed? The algorithm will measure the results.

Depending on the grading, the autopilot system would then receive the European CE quality mark of product safety – or not, as the case may be. 

Q What will UASs still not be able to do by the end of 2017?

A Let me rephrase the question. It’s all about insurance. If you’re not insured, you are acting illegally… Within approximately two years from now there will be one set of European rules which an insurance company will force you to comply with. The rules may be different in the rest of the world, but I think the European rules will spread like an ink blot.

Peter van Blyenburgh has been involved with unmanned aerial systems since 1987 and supplies advisory services in this field to corporate and governmental entities in Europe, the Middle & Far East and North America. He is president of UVS International (www.uvs-international.org) which he founded in 1997.

Operating out of Paris, France, UVS International is a non-profit organisation that represents over 2,800 stakeholders in 44 countries in the field of remotely piloted systems. Manufacturers, operators, service suppliers, research organisations and academic institutions are represented on a worldwide basis in all the competence areas that matter. The annual publication RPAS: The Global Perspective is regarded as the world’s leading reference work on RPAS (1st edition in 2003). See www.uvsinfo.com

While not a familiar name to many US readers, Peter van Blyenburgh is one of the industry’s global thought leaders. If you are not familiar with the term “harmonisation” it is the idea of having a single consistent rule set for drone operations across every country in the EU. In many ways this represents the same challenge as the “patchwork quilt” does to drone operations in the US.
I very much like his ideas about standards as well as professionalism. It is also refreshing to read that there will be testing and that qualifying products will receive the European CE mark which is actually a stricter standard than the US UL standard. Still, as I wrote in Why Standards Will Be Critical To UAV Adoption this is an essential step towards widespread adoption and growth.

read the rest of the interview at gim-international.com