We commented in our last blog, part of the content and initiatives that the document published by The Commission and that sent the document to The European Parliament, with the title: A strategy for drones 2.0 for a smart and sustainable drone ecosystem in Europe“, COM (2022) 652. In this case I am going to analyze some issues that are discussed in the document and that are important for the future of the world of drones in Europe and that were not included in my last blog.
The use of UAS is increasing every day and although in the media and in social appreciation it seems that these aircraft are already part of our lives in various activities, the reality is that we are still at the beginning of what will be the operation of drones in the future.
As stated in the document, drone operations make up a very complex ecosystem, where technological advances are mixed with information exchange platforms. Operational safety, an issue that is vital to guarantee its future, does not depend only on the robustness of the drone itself, but we must integrate it with efficient traffic management and control systems, but also protected ones, that is, with cyber-secure data links. Technological advances must go in parallel in all facets that make up the ecosystem, otherwise we will be left with a specific use of drones and not generalized.
Everyone knows the problem that fully electric UAS have with their flight autonomy, which depends to a large extent on the batteries they carry on board. The increase in elements that are being added on board the UAS in order to provide greater security and safety, have the counterpart that they consume battery and therefore do not help to improve autonomy. Batteries are therefore one of the limiting factors for the use of drones for many applications, mainly for those with the greatest future, such as parcel delivery or the transport of people. This problem also occurs in other modes of transport such as electric cars, but one of the disadvantages of UAS, as everyone can understand, is that the lack of a battery for a drone constitutes a catastrophic failure.
The EU has promoted an alliance at the European level to promote the development of its own battery market given its critical and priority nature to reduce external dependence, in a priority technology for electric mobility of the future. This alliance, called the “European Battery Alliance (EBA250)”, has as its mission to guarantee that the EU has an industry that includes the entire value chain of the battery sector at a European level. This alliance created in 2017, addresses an industrial challenge that ranges from the need to have raw materials for the components, greater efficiency and safety of the batteries and even the disposal of the waste generated. Has been estimated that the value of the battery market in the EU will be 250,000 million euros by the year 2025. A market of vital strategic importance for Europe.
Another important aspect in this whole process of facilitating the safe use of drones on a massive scale is the active incorporation of local and regional authorities in the design, control and development of this new mobility. It is essential to promote testing initiatives in different cities and above all the exchange of information, experiences and knowledge in the field of sustainable urban mobility. We have here another example where the EU has promoted a meeting between European cities for this purpose. We are referring to the inactive UIC2 (UAM Initiative Community of Cities) that brings together more than forty cities and regions throughout the EU, where everything from small projects to larger and more ambitious urban air mobility ecosystems are being developed. The U-Space implementation regulation (UE 2021/664) establishes in its article 18 (f), that a mechanism must be implemented to coordinate with other authorities and entities, also at the local level, the designation of the U-Space airspace, the establishment of airspace restrictions for UAS within the U-Space and the determination of the U-Space services to be provided. This multi-level governance approach is necessary to ensure that the perspectives of all stakeholders and their competences on mobility are taken into account. To do this, local authorities, whether regional or municipal authorities, must participate in the deployment phases of the U-space.
In short, the drone sector that the EU is committed to, must be aware of its environmental impact, but above all, drone operations must be socially accepted in order to fully play their role for the benefit of companies and local communities. This will require the full involvement of all stakeholders at the local, regional and national levels to ensure that safe drone operations can be deployed, both in urban and rural areas, in a fair and sustainable manner.