The drone industry isn’t limited by technology. The technology exists to use drones to carry people, things, and tools: the variety of payloads and hardware available is stunning. But not all of this technology can be used. Commercial applications are limited primarily by regulations.
Drone regulations in heavily utilized airspace are critical to ensure the safety of the NAS, and drone integration is a complex and long-term project. However, Europe’s risk-based structure of regulations has allowed the drone industry to move forward quickly – utilizing drone technology in ways not available in the US.
One of the primary factors influencing the range of applications available is BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) flight, currently not allowed under US regulations. While BVLOS flight is not allowed everywhere in Europe, many countries have made exceptions and been flexible in granting waivers to commercial operators.
France’s move towards advanced regulations at the beginning of the commercial industry has helped make it a leading country in the industry: in the first quarter of 2016 France garnered the most drone investment of any country in the world. Some of that investment went to leading industrial drone manufacturer Delair-Tech. Based in Toulouse, the company now has a presence in 80 different countries representing large enterprises in power and utilities, oil and gas, mining and aggregates, agriculture and more. The company attributes part of their success to France’s forward thinking approach to regulation. “BVLOS flight has been allowed in France since 2012,” says Michael de Lagarde, Delair-Tech’s CEO. “This really opens a lot of options, and a wide range of applications.” The company offers a suite of longer endurance drones designed to take advantage of the regulations, allowing a much longer range.
5 Commercial Applications You Won’t See in the US
#1. Large Scale Transportation Infrastructure, Large Scale Agriculture. Infrastructure applications are a major use of drone technology around the globe, but BVLOS operation means that drones can provide dramatic cost savings and assistance to huge projects. Railroads, roads, and bridges can be planned, designed, and maintained with drones. Flying BVLOS, drone operators can cover long ranges to monitor vegetation encroachment, measure contour and elevation, and monitor accidents.
In agriculture, innovative companies like DroneDeploy are developing tools to allow farmers daily, real time field monitoring. But it still means that farmers need to be in the field in order to fly. BVLOS flight and longer endurance drones allow for very large scale agriculture to utilize drone technology more fully, monitoring vast fields as often as required.
#2. Wildlife – and Wild Land – Management. Drones are the perfect tool for monitoring huge swaths of protected land that may be inaccessible by land vehicle. While drones are used in wildlife management here in the US, BVLOS operation means that they can be used not just for specific projects but in order to regularly monitor and maintain large areas.
#3. Surveillance – and Protection. Surveillance of small areas, like warehouses or energy infrastructures, are common applications. But in other areas, long-range surveillance of border areas can be performed by drone, at a significant savings in manpower. In addition, drones are being used to monitor ocean routes in order to rescue refugees traveling by boat.
#4. Big Drone Applications. European countries have been more flexible about allowing some larger drone applications, like crop spraying. Long-range crop spraying drones can weigh several hundred pounds, but provide major cost savings over traditional manned aircraft. Here in the US, crop-spraying drones face multiple hurdles before they can be implemented: aircraft will need to be certified by the FAA and meet federal and state requirements for spraying chemicals.
#5. Drone Delivery. Drone delivery has been hyped and promoted in the US for several years – but it’s already happening in Europe. In addition to Amazon’s tests of drone delivery in England, Israeli company Flytrex has partnerships with the Ukraine government to deliver the post and has performed electronic parts delivery in Europe.
Domino’s Pizzas, by the way, are delivered by sidewalk drone in some parts of Germany and the Netherlands.
Europe and the Member States
Europe does have its version of the FAA – called EASA – but so far member states have maintained some autonomy in making decisions on drone regulation. While the applications above aren’t available in every European country, the fact that they are already being performed safely in some may help to move EASA drone regulations in a more flexible direction. Proven applications in Europe may also help provide evidence to the FAA that they should be included in the US regulatory framework.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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