London’s City Hall has recently played host to a meeting of leading drone industry stakeholders who gathered to discuss how best to harness UK expertise to enable the delivery of ‘Beyond Visual Line of Sight’ (BVLOS) and ‘Vertical Take-Off and Landing’ (VTOL) Drone Flights and ‘Unmanned Traffic Management’ (UTM) systems for drones.
The meeting signifies the UK drone industry’s commitment to provide a solution to two of the sector’s biggest challenges to make routine commercial drone flights a reality in UK skies.
The outputs of the meeting are expected to form an important industry contribution to government thinking on the long awaited Drone Bill, which is at an advanced stage of drafting, and is now expected to be laid before Parliament in early 2019. Hosted at City Hall by London Assembly Transport Committee member Keith Prince AM, the meeting sought to pull together the expertise developed through several different BVLOS, VTOL and UTM pilot projects being progressed by a range of UK organisations dedicated to the success of the drone industry, both in the public and private sector.
Recent discussions between Drone Major Group who convened the meeting and representatives of the Department for Transport (DfT), the Greater London Authority (GLA), British Standards Institution (BSI) and others, highlighted the need for the industry to come together to agree the best approaches to ensure that the UK maintains its leading role in the drone industry’s continued development as one of the world’s most economically significant disruptor technologies.
BVLOS drone operations are broadly defined as those which take place beyond the pilot’s direct line of sight and VTOL operations are critical to the development of the passenger carrying drone industry. Currently, such operations are strictly controlled due to legitimate safety concerns, however, it is widely recognised that the full potential of the transformational drone industry can only be realised once a safe and responsible framework for BVLOS operations has been established. In this way, BVLOS and VTOL are a precursor to the creation of a wider UTM system which incorporates autonomous operations for drones.
The meeting comes at a pivotal time, taking place in the same week as the world’s first operational standards for drones are announced by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), which were released yesterday for consultation in advance of their official adoption during 2019.
Commenting on today’s meeting, Robert Garbett, Founder of Drone Major Group and Chairman of the BSI Committee on Drone Standards, explained: “Today’s gathering of the UK drone industry’s leading figures has been necessary in order to harness our world-beating expertise and knowledge, focusing it towards drone protocols which bring forward the ‘Beyond Visual Line of Sight’ flying and ‘Vertical Take-Off and Landing’ necessary to enable the industry to flourish and reach its true potential.
“This week has also seen the release of the ISO draft International Standards for Drone Operations. These Standards will undoubtedly lead to a new confidence in safety, security and compliance within this dynamic industry, resulting in a massive expansion in the availability and use of drone technology in the years to come. I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in this critically important industry, to respond to the consultation by the 21st January 2019 deadline.”
The immediate objective of the City Hall meeting was to formally establish a Working Group tasked with producing a proposed strategy for presentation to the DfT and CAA, designed to assist in the adoption of future guidelines, operational protocols and standards for BVLOS and UTM. The working group will aim to present its findings at a further meeting in January 2019.
The impact on UK Plc
Excitement surrounding the growth potential of the drone industry worldwide has been fermented through attempts to forecast its economic impact. For instance, PWC recently predicted that the UK aerial drone industry will contribute £42bn and 628,000 jobs to the UK economy by 2030, while Goldman Sachs estimate that drones worldwide are evolving into a $100bn market by 2020. These predictions only address aerial drones, and it is clear that the economic benefits offered by drone technology are set to grow further, particularly when Surface, Underwater, Air and Space applications are taken into account in their entirety.