Saturday, 02 September 2017 17:21
“Be aware, this is a paradigm shift. Airspace is a commodity that is suddenly open to everyone, and this is a major, major shift.”
Lorenz Murzilli from Switzerland’s Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) was forceful in his assessment of what the aviation world faces when it comes to the rules and regulations needed to accommodate drones, when he spoke at the first FAI International Drones Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland on Saturday 2 September.
“What is the safest way to approach a drone?” he asked, “Many say that it is to not fly it, to ban the drones!” But he added, “It is too easy to impose blanket regulations, it’s basically impossible, it doesn’t work.”
The “paradigm change” in how airspace around the world was changing was happening now he said, and it was happening in mainstream aviation, too.
Several speakers echoed Murzilli throughout the session.
Benoit Curdy, Secretary General of the Global UTM Association, said that working together had to be the answer – and that meant including many non-traditional aviation stakeholders.
Flashing a slide on the screen with 60 members, from Sony to DJI, he said it was a “global effort” to create a regulatory framework that will work for the many millions of drone users around the world.
A broad consensus sees three categories of drones: an Open category for those under 30kg; a middle category for more professional drones; and a third category that is regulated as traditional aviation is now.
“There are three steps to managing U-Space,” explained Curdy, referencing the recently-announced proposed lower airspace for drones. “Registration, e-Identification and geo-fencing.”
Although there were “lots of questions” around all those elements, that is where the drone world is focusing its efforts, he said.
“The last thing we want it to duplicate our efforts. We are starting to see everyone working together.”
The question of collision avoidance was covered in depth by speakers including Andrea Schlapbach from FLARM, who showed point-of-view footage showing how hard drones are to spot from a cockpit. “It’s very hard for pilots to see small drones,” he said, before showcasing technology that allows drones and manned-aviators to ‘see’ each other digitally.
Tim Dawson-Townsend explained how radar could help, and described how his company, Aurora Swiss Aerospace, are developing radar systems that can work on very small drones at very low distance. “The future will involve multiple sensors on both big and small drones.”
Later the conference heard from a representative from the Swiss Police, who spoke at length about the dangers of ‘bad’ drone operators.
He said he was working with a “new generation air management system” that would allow drones to fly through Geneva airspace. Later this month he said Geneva city authorities would demonstrate a system that included “e-registration, e-identification, flight planning, live tracking, situational awareness and geo-fencing” in the sky above Geneva. “We will fly three live missions over the city.”
The future was unfolding now, was the message. Not next year or the year after, but over the next few weeks and months.
Christian Struwe from market-leader drone-maker DJI captured the state of flux that aviation is currently in. “Aviation used to be an arena that was highly institutionalised. Today we are not sure who is developing the standards. Not because there is no one, but because there is everyone.
“Who will come out on top? That is an arms race where everyone is trying to struggle for relevancy.”
He added: “The aviation industry now is about countless entrepreneurs and start-ups, it’s consumer electronics for everyone.”
The FAI International Drones Conference and Expo is being held as part of EPFL Drone Days 2017, a three-day discovery showcase about the world of Drones and Drone technology. The venue, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, is a research institute and a proven centre for excellence in robotics research and innovation.
The expo continues on Sunday 3 September 2017.
Find out more at www.fai-dronesconference.org
Photographs: Marcus King / FAI