A Deeper look: Notam’s
Each month we have a deeper look at one aspect of the aviation environment that drones are operated in. This month we will give some more information on NOTAM’s.
NOTAM’s are notices or short snippets that contain important information for the men and women who fly aircraft. So that’s also essential for the men and women who fly unmanned aircraft or drones.
These notices inform pilots about closure of runways or airspaces, high obstacles like cranes in the vicinity of an airport, fire work displays, and so on. NOTAMs are specifically important to flight crews of airplanes and helicopters when it comes about airport operations for planning purposes (you don’t want to show up at your destination airfield after a 9hr transatlantic flight and just a little bit of fuel remaining , only to find out that the airfield is closed due to a local strike …)
For drone pilots, NOTAMS carry a lot of information that is particularly useful in knowing which airspace is out of limits for drone operations.
Think about military airspace that is activated for training helicopter missions, or danger areas that are activated and do not allow any traffic to fly in or through.
Also, sometimes NOTAMS are being issued to inform airplane or helicopter crews of drone operations. You will see these type of UAC NOTAMs either when they are in close proximity to airports or airfields or when they risk going a bit higher than normal and could interfere with low flying general aviation traffic. C5351/19 NOTAMN Q) EGTT/QWULW/IV/BO/AW/000/009/5115N00045W001
A) EGLF B) 1910130000 C) 1910252359
E) MULTIPLE DRONES OPERATING INSIDE THE FARNBOROUGH ATZ PSN _ 511522N 0004455W RADIUS 0.43NM, UP TO HGT600FT AGL / 853FT AMSL
G) 853FT AMSL
When looking at the NOTAM my eyes immediately scanned the snippet and focused on the free text stating ‘Multiple drones operating inside the …’, ‘600FT AGL’. But I realised I never really looked at the page filling abbreviations and codes in the rest of the snippet.
Even while we at IDRONECT provide drone pilots with visual NOTAM information on the flight chart I thought it might be a good idea to reveal the mystery behind the structure and elements of a NOTAM message.
We are all airmen arent’t we ?
First of all NOTAM messages follow an international standard. This standard is described by Annex 15 of the ICAO Convention. . It deals with Aeronautical Information Services. NOTAM formats are described in detail in Appendix 6 to this document.
The NOTAM starts with a letter and an identification number. In this case C5351.
/19 is the applicable year.
It is a New NOTAM. NOTAMN, other possibilities are NOTAMR(replacing another NOTAM) and NOTAMC (cancelling another NOTAM)
Then there is a Qualifying Line starting with the letter Q, after which we get into more detail by describing the identifiers (letters A to G)
The Qualifying Line summarizes the scope of the NOTAM by listing the following items, all separated by a forward slash.
- FIR : The applicable Flight Information Region. In this case EGTT (London Area)
- NOTAM CODE : total of five letters and the first letter is always the letter Q. The second and third letters identify the subject, and the fourth and fifth letters denote the status. Choosing these letters is a whole new subject but if you want to really dig deep, go to Doc8400 . In this case QWULW.
- TRAFFIC I = IFR, V = VFR, K = NOTAM is a checklist. In our example it is both for IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) and VFR (Visual Flight Rules).
- PURPOSE N = NOTAM selected for the immediate attention of flight crew members, B = NOTAM of operational significance selected for PIB entry, O = NOTAM concerning flight operations ,M = Miscellaneous NOTAM; not subject for a briefing, but it is available on request,K = NOTAM is a checklist . In this example we have a operational significant NOTAM. Yep, flying into drones at 800feet AGL in the airport area is significant alright !.
- SCOPE A = Aerodrome, E = En-route, W = Warning. Again the drones flying in the vicinity of the airfield would indeed justify an aerodrome warning.
- and 7) LOWER/UPPER LOWER and UPPER limits shall only be expressed in flight levels (FL). Flight levels are abbreviated forms of a flight altitude above the standard altimeter setting of 1013hPa. So 39000 feet above this pressure level would be abbreviated to FL390. We cut the last two zero’s. In this case 000 means ground level, and 009 means 900 feet.
- COORDINATES, RADIUS The latitude and longitude accurate to one minute, as well as a three-digit distance figure giving the radius of influence in NM (e.g. 4700N01140E043). 5115N00045W001 = 51degrees 15minutes North, 000 degrees (Greenwhich !) 45 minutes West and a radius of 1 NM (that’s the smallest we can go here).
A = aerodrome to which NOTAM is applicable. In our case EGLF = Farnborough
B = starting time described as year, month, day, hours and minutes in UTC. The start of the day is “0000”. In our example 1910130000 means 2019, October 13th at the start of the day.
C = ending time in the same format as described above. If the period is permanent then the term “PERM” is used. If it is uncertain when the period will end “EST”is added to say that the timing is estimated. End of day is “2359”. In our example 1910252359 means 2019, October 25th at the end of the day.
E = NOTAM Code, complemented where necessary by ICAO abbreviations, indicators, identifiers, designators, call signs, frequencies, figures and plain language. If the NOTAM is only for local use, local language can be used.
I think we already have a good idea what the NOTAM is about, but maybe the abbreviations ATZ, AMSL and AGL are interesting. ATZ = An aerodrome traffic zone (ATZ) is defined as: An airspace of defined dimensions established around an aerodrome for the protection of aerodrome traffic.
AMSL = above mean sea level
AGL = above ground level
F) and G) lower and upper height limits of activities or restrictions, with an indicaton of the reference.
In our example we are looking at F) SFC (surface) and G) 853FT AMSL
Of course that would be quite complicated to read all NOTAMS like that no ? We know. So we made it easy to manage all of the relevant NOTAM’s for drone pilots.
NOTAM’s can be found in three different ways. All of our plans come with up to date worldwide NOTAMs. We update every hour so you won’t miss out on any important ones.
The first place to show you the NOTAM’s is on the flight chart. That’s the place where you would create a flight in the first place
In the left section you will see this icon
When you click on it, the NOTAM’s will be shown on the flight map.
If you then click on the NOTAM area you will get the details, like shown here for an activated area by NOTAM in Croatia
The second and third place to find NOTAM information is once you created a flight scenario.
To recap, you can make a flight scenario months before you actually fly the scenario, so it can very well be that there was no NOTAM active at the moment you created it. But now that you will fly it, it is important to check the NOTAM’s once more.
So in the dashboard, go to one of the created flight scenarios and click on view.
Once you are in the scenario view, you can either click on the tab AIRSPACE or on the tab NOTAM to see all relevant NOTAMs.
When in the AIRSPACE tab, you can see the planned flight zone of the scenario you created. The same NOTAM icon shows up on the right side. Click on it and see if there are any NOTAMs active for your planned flight.
When you chose the NOTAM tab, you get the NOTAM’s in written form. But now you are fully proficient to read them in that way so that’s a piece of cake now.
Then you can filter the NOTAM’s to see all of them, only the ones that talk about zone activation, or only the ones that deal with events that are relevant below 500 feet.
That’s it for this blog article.
If you have any requests on subjects you like us to describe in-depth, let us know in the comments and leave us your feedback.
Happy Flying !
IDRONECT OS 7.3. – Software Update For Drone Software Project Management
In December 2020 we created LogMagic, our brand new improved flight log syncing and processing solution. Our LogMagic system provides support for DJI, Flyability, Wingtra, and Sensefly logs.
Also, we have added the option to set up (Permanent) Locations to keep track of your projects, actions, and flights for specific locations where you have to fly often. Think about a mine that needs inspecting every day or a field of wind turbines. These Locations are linked to your customers and you can give additional requirements like who and what can fly there (and who can’t). Zone Management and Risk Assessment for these cases can now simply be done in the (virtual) Location. Anything new to look out for on a certain location, just reach out to anyone involved through the built-in chat!
Furthermore, we have added the option to install Recurring Actions. Some projects or actions don’t just happen once; they happen time and time again, hence ‘recurring actions’. From now on you can set your actions to repeat themselves on the dates you want, whether it is daily, weekly, monthly or yearly.
Improvements have also been made regarding our Documentation Expiration-notification system and our Maintenance Module. Lastly, the dashboard no longer includes Completed Actions, and you can now get a preview of the Reactive Safety Management module.
In short, we have updated:
- (Permanent) Locations
- Recurring Actions
- Our Reactive Safety Management Module
- Our Maintenance Module
- Our Documentation Expiration-notification system
Enjoy the update!
The Drone Market Land Rush: Is 2021 The Time For Your Drone Business To Set Off?
Have you ever watched that movie with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman where their characters race on a horse over the Oklahoma plains so whoever gets to a piece of land first can plant a flag in the ground? In that movie, Far And Away, planting your flag in a piece of land meant that you would become the owner of that land. It is referred to as the “Oklahoma Land Run”.
The “Gold Rush” is another typical name for that (Californian) era, where the land of opportunity opened itself to those who were able to see beyond obstacles and in doing so raced towards great wealth. Somehow, I cannot seem to erase this image that there is some similarity between those events in the 19th century and the booming of the drone business today. Both give the impression that there is a very large opportunity for success for those who dare to take risks early on. A “the early bird gets the worm”-type of reasoning. Just have a look at the popularity of the keyword “Drone” in Google since 2004.
The peak occurred in December 2016. Since then it seems that the hype has stabilised. However, what we have witnessed in the last 2 years is a shift from recreational or semi-pro drone activities to full-blown UAV companies that specialise in one or more fields, such as Agriculture, Real state or Cinematography.
5 years ago, drones were thought to be a sure key for future success. Buy a drone, create a quick website, advertise your pictures on Instagram and boom, there are more work opportunities for you than you could ever imagine. But the truth is that it has become less of a gut-feeling hunch and more of a calculated exercise involving market studies, business planning, training, equipment and focusing on one (or maximum two) type(s) of drone activities.
The opportunity, on the other hand, is still there. Any job that has to be done in the air, and for which the current alternatives are either too costly or too dangerous, has the potential to be taken over by drones. And I am not yet talking about the transportation of goods and people by means of unmanned air vehicles (which will revolutionize urban mobility big time).
The conclusion is that opportunities are wide open for those who are willing to grab the market. For those who are willing to excel in their field. For those guys and gals, it’s a true land grab.
And IDRONECT is here to help achieve that.
Many years I have heard that safety and quality are just necessary evils when it comes to running an efficient aviation company. That they are one of those cumbersome functions you need to fill in. That they exist only because the regulator requires it by rule, not because they actually matter. That it’s a ticking-the-box type of activity.
The Flight Ops Manager rolls his eyes at you when you come and do another audit and check the accuracy of the paperwork. What good does it do in selling him more flights or getting more cargo transported? That extra safety feature or procedure measure surely means that the “flight ops-machine” is slowing down, no?
I beg to differ, and I have been working in both roles; both as a Flight Ops and as an Auditor and Safety Expert.
The point that we at IDRONECT are making is that when safety and quality are done right, they are indeed processes that propel your company to the front of the pack when it comes to drone land grabbing.
Because safety and quality eventually become built-in processes rather than disruptions. For cowboys, these intuitive processes are the equivalent of having a fully tuned full-bred horse racing to the front. In short, safety and quality processes are paramount to efficient project management.
And efficient project management is the key to better sales, better execution, better cost-control and yep, you guessed it, more drone market grabbing.
Time to crank it up a notch
Growing, accelerating and expanding our platform is a very exciting step for us to take. This blog article gives a bit of background info on how we got here, where we are going and what you may see from us in the future.
For the past 4,5 years we – that’s mainly Chris,my co-founder and CTO and myself – have been working and developing IDRONECT before, during and after our other activities. It’s been a long process, with some ups and downs but in the end with a tangible and stable result. The result is that we have built a software platform that allows drone pilots to fly safe, legal and efficient and at the same time connects the different players of the drone ecosystem: pilots to customers, pilots to schools, pilots to authorities, manufacturers to schools, insurances to pilots, … you get the picture:
All these features are made to fulfil our promise to the drone pilot: to Fly More in a safe, legal and efficient way.
The efforts of the last years have made that we are now one of the most complete UAV Management Systems (UMS). In the world. In a next blog post I will be highlighting the difference between so-called UTM’s and UMS’s. Well, let’s give you a quick spoiler alert on that one: a UTM is a special form of UMS. A UMS does more. Traffic management is just one side of the story that a UMS tells. We are a very complete UMS.
In the last year we wanted to see if the value we brought to our home market (Belgium) would also work in other countries. We were happy to welcome drone pilots and enthusiasts from 46 countries on our platform since the go-live of version 4.0. The understanding that people all around the world who believe in drones and the good that drones can bring are finding what they need in IDRONECT gave us the energy to shift the entire project in a higher gear.
We are happy to announce that we have found the necessary investment to be able to do just that. Up until now we were bootstrapping and we were focused on making the product better. We believe that it was the right path to follow: to use our own funds and revenue to build and finetune the product and then to boost the acceleration with new means. It allowed us to grow alongside a drone ecosystem which also became more mature.
In our revived blog and other content we will give updates on how we are doing.
Growing is a step that requires sacrifice as well.
I have decided to stop my flying career so I can fully dedicate myself to IDRONECT. Flying an airplane was a childhood dream and I was happy to have been able to make my passion my job for the last 18 years. I flew real cool airplanes (Learjets and Falcons) and was able to see a lot of the world. I am most fond of my flying for an air ambulance operator in the beginning of my flying career. Flying a Learjet35 from Colombo to Melbourne remains the highlight.
But my passion for aviation grew past the mere flying. I wanted to do more. First by starting a consultancy firm, then by creating a software solution for safety management. The planets aligned when I met Chris, and we started Aviatize LLC. With this company we wanted to build smart software solutions for the aviation industry. We still want. We still do. It is just that IDRONECT has become our focal point over the last 4 years.
It’s time to say goodbye to the cockpit and focus 200% on the building of our products. As one door closes, a new gate opens.
Last week we moved into our new office. We are still settling in but it has all of the trimmings to make it our new home for the next years and growing our team.
Our team in Belgium has doubled in size as well. I will be writing a post on our new team-members in the next weeks.
In the meantime, we welcome you at our new headquarters in Belgium. Give us a shout and come by for a talk and a cup of coffee.
For now, time to push the throttle forward go ballistic with IDRONECT. Join us for the ride !
Fly More !
Co-founder and CEO
The Integration of a Smart UTM: Transport Malta Case Study
As the government of Malta (CAD) was looking for a safe and efficient way to regulate Unmanned Traffic Management, IDRONECT UTM came up with an automated customized solution.
The Maltese Civil Aviations Directorate or CAD is the organisation responsible for safe, legal, and efficient usage of the airspaces in Malta. As a part of Transport Malta, they specifically make sure that all the (un)manned aviation activities above Malta are happening securely and that all (un)manned flights are in line with the regulations set by the EASA, EUROCONTROL, ICAO, and the ECAC.
Flying drones in Malta is popular. Many tourists bring their drones to capture footage of their holidays, or simply to enjoy flying their drones, since Malta is somewhat of an early adopter of drones. Besides these types of flights, there are a large number of flights for the cinematography industry; think about Games Of Thrones or the latest Jurassic Park movie.
The problem in Malta is that the entire airspace of the island is controlled airspace, due to the arrival and approach routes to the airport. That means that, for every flight in Malta, whether manned or unmanned, governmental permission needs to be given in order to fly.
On 31st of December 2020, the new EASA regulations dealing with drones came into force, which also applied to Malta, a full member of the EASA. That means that all flights on the island of Malta need to be approved, whether manned or unmanned. Plus, operators need to get a so-called “EASA UAV Operator”-Certificate.
There are more than 40 commercial aviation companies based on the island, which is possible through a strict but hands-on following of the EASA rules.
Drone operations on the Maltese archipelago had so far been managed by a type of manual system that many countries have used as well. That is, if you wanted to fly your drone, you needed to send an email to the authorities, stating:
- at which date and time you wanted to fly
- a map of the exact route you would be flying
- a risk assessment of that route
- the type of drone you would be flying for that route
- identification of the pilot(s) for your route
- and more!
There was simply no standardised system or format for a drone pilot to send this type of information to the government in an automated way.
With over 1500 unmanned flights per year and the fact that every drone flight notification or request for approval is different, that meant that the aviation authorities faced a lot of administrative follow-up and back-and-forth communication with the pilots or drone operators flying these drones.
Such a bureaucratic method inevitably led to a lot of illegal drone flying, which poses a risk to other forms of (un)manned transportation, objects, and citizens.
In short, the Maltese authorities went out to search for a better solution for flying drones in their airspaces, while also keeping in mind the new EASA rules and the need to know at any given time all the details of drone flights happening in Malta.
While analysing Malta’s challenge, we needed to find a solution that would provide Malta with:
- an easy way for citizens (and visitors) to connect with the Maltese Civil Aviation Directorate;
- an automated UTM in which all data are centralised;
- an easy way for both citizens (and visitors) and Malta to be in line with the updated EASA regulations;
- an easy-to-use way for both parties to handle their paperwork intuitively.
In short, we needed to make it as easy as possible to set up a flight for drone pilots; while still guaranteeing maximum oversight of all drone flights for the Maltese authority, with a minimum of administrative workload for the authorities.
Besides normal ‘aviation’ airspaces, we also needed to include so-called geo-zones or restricted areas that are not really airspaces in the traditional sense. Good examples of these are sensitive areas such as hospitals, embassies, prisons, and so on.
Another important criterion was, of course, safety adherence and compliance. It is important that the Maltese authorities have an overview of all the drone activity that is going on in their airspaces.
That is why, in our UTM, we made sure that the drones that are flying can be tracked in real-time. So when drone flights are being planned in sensitive areas or restricted zones, the Civil Aviation Directorate can choose to impose a tracker, which the CAD provides.
This way, whenever a drone is flown outside of the planned zone, a breach alert will be sent to the drone pilot, the observer, the authority, and to any other stakeholder.
An important aspect of the usability of this UTM is the use of so-called “automatic flight approvals”. Through an intelligent system of configurable parameters, the IDRONECT UTM identifies the risk level of a certain planned flight.
When the risk is considered to be low, the flight is labeled as “eligible for auto-approval”. All other flights, identified as “medium” or “high risk”, or those flying close to or in a sensitive or restricted area, require further coordination with the team.
Through auto-approval, authorities no longer need to manually approve hundreds of unmanned flights that are already in line with the rules of certain airspace and the involved authorities.
They can simply focus on those flights that do matter; the flights that deviate from the general rules.
The IDRONECT UTM is set up by our team and has been designed to work intuitively. After all, we want to make sure that users (both drone and authority) can be trained quickly and thoroughly.
That is why, if users need a bit more information, or in the unlikely event that they get stuck, a full user guide is available online. For authority users, we provide in-depth training on how to use all aspects of the system.
Lastly, the UTM needed to be set up and going soon. To do that, we worked in a 3-step process.
First, we make sure that all the EASA rules are incorporated into the UTM system. For rules that are specific to the Maltese authorities, we made sure that they could enter the rules in the IDRONECT Rule Editor and show the result in the simulator before validating them.
We then added some extra conditions that drone pilots need to comply with or extra documents that needed to be provided. We also defined workflows that designed the path from flight request to approval in minutes.
Then we made sure that all of the airspaces controlled by Malta were configured. In doing this, we included airspaces straight from EUROCONTROL and imported any georeferenced zone which they needed to control.
Think about restricted zones, critical infrastructures, and so on. Each zone could then be given its own flight parameters (flight not permitted, only during the day, …). They could even configure the cost of certain airspace, in case drone pilots were operating a test centre.
Lastly, we had to connect the drone operator and the Maltese authority. We set up the Portal Hub, defined the roles of all actors, included forms, and even customised the platform. We also configured the flight tracking features and geofence messaging.
The version we set up for Malta was also a white-label version. After some testing, the IDRONECT UTM was ready to go.
Between the moment the contract was awarded to the first live test of the system, 2 weeks passed. We added some extra customised features and only a month after the initial ‘go’ was given, the platform went live in Malta.
On the night of the announcement of IDRONECT’s incorporated UTM in CAD, on national television, nearly 500 drone operators had already started registering on the system.
In short, our simple and intuitive design combined with the speed at which the UTM was set up, led to an important aspect of the IDRONECT UTM, namely the cost of our system, which is highly affordable compared to larger and more complex UTMs.
When we stand up for ourselves, we also stand up for you
This blog post is an opinion piece and a look behind the curtain on why we believe in open drone ecosystems, on why the name of our drone management platform has a large portion of the word ‘connect’ in it, and why we fight against barriers to market access. We believe that useful applications should be enabled rather than having drones controlled by some dominant players or/and even prevented.
We also argue that drones – as the disruptive technology they are – deserve the best possible support and environment to thrive in. That support will be achieved when flights are managed through an open, connected system. Not by a closed one. We understand what the reasons of enforcing a closed system are. Those reasons however do not serve the cause of any drone pilot, authority or industry. They are only serving the benefit of one or two players, and their investors.
Let us guide you through our story.
On September 3rd 2019, the Belgian Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) decided that 9 days later, a software application called Droneguide Pro, would become the only possible method to notify the highest risk drone flights and to get derogations on otherwise unauthorised flights. It came around the same time that the BCAA launched a digital way to register aircraft, including drones and created a drone council.
Up until now and for sure until that fateful day, we have been supporting hundreds of Belgian pilots and companies since the launch of the actual drone regulations in May 2016 by sending their flight notifcations for the same category of flights smoothly to the BCAA. We were given no prior notice of this decision and were not consulted on how we could connect our platform to the new software solution.
Not only did we – and still do – support Belgian pilots for supporting their drone operations from A to Z with our software application since 2015, we also helped multiple companies get their Operations Manual approved, in which IDRONECT is described as the management tool, including to send notifications.
So we decided – obviously – to oppose this decision, in order to prevent that our efforts and our economic livelihood is put in danger, and that our users are being forced into a direction against their will.
For all transparency we like to describe here what our arguments are, as well as the history of our product.
Let’s start of with some history:
We started our endeavour in the summer of 2015 when it became clear that drone users need some help in dealing with all of the tasks that are required before flying the unmanned devices. More than 80% of drone pilots are new to aviation, and aviation rules are difficult, even for aviation professionals. So we created Dronelog.be and showed it quite soon to the Belgian aviation authorities who gladly saw our efforts as an enabling tool, also for their own possible use.
Drones do not follow the same logic as traditional aircraft. The technological advances made by the drone sector are so fast, that we don’t know yet what will be flying in the sky in let’s say 12 months. Large airplanes like the A380 or B787 take years and years to develop and to get operational. Traditional aviation laws also sometimes take 5 years or more from idea to actually being implemented. When we started in 2015, a DJI Phantom 3 was the go-to drone for the serious recreational pilot. Now, 4 years later, even the improved Phantom 4 has become a relic, as we are witnessing and observing tests with UAV’s carrying passengers and drones delivering pizza’s. The drone industry itself by means of its users and developers largely outpaces the regulators, the authorities and the general public. In order to give this great industry the best possible chance we offered our solution to the authority for free, we did not want any barrier that would hinder the great potential. Why ? Because we believe that the drone industry can only grow if it grows in a safe and secure way without barriers holding it back.
When we launched our improved platform IDRONECT on February 2nd 2016, we truly had a world’s premier. We managed a drone flight at what we now know as DronePort. A pilot created a drone flight plan,which was approved by the airport commander and subsequently by the aviation authorities. All were connected on one platform and the flight got approval in a matter of minutes. The original flight had to be cancelled due to the rain, so we made a new flight plan live in front of all tech-journalists that were abundantly present. The flight was tracked live within a pre-formatted geofence. We were way ahead in the process. Happy faces all over, authorities clapped and praised our efforts, live radio-shows and TV-interviews followed.
We showed that the industry itself could come up with a solution that filled a need for all parties involved. The industry itself described the need and came up with a good solution. The only solution ? Of course not. But at least one that at that time enabled industry growth. In a safe way and fully compliant with all regulatory requirements.
Our positive inertia lead us to win the Drone Hero 2016 award, received out of the hands of then Alexander Decroo – the Minister responsible for digitalisation. His speech on the benefits of peer-to-peer economy and sharing of knowledge and value still resonates in our ears until today. We were at the right time at the right place. Were we ?
Little did we know that our moments of TV-fame in February 2016, awakened forces that before were unaware of our existence.
Soon after winning our award, we got news from the BCAA that it could no longer use our platform since it used it for free (in fact what it could do with our solution was approve or disapprove a flight by clicking a button, depending on the flight scenario and risk analysis that was presented by the drone pilot. This was before the actual drone regulations introduced a system with derogations and notifications). Even when the authority made clear that it was not using our platform as the only method but merely for the drone pilots who used it, it did not matter. It had to stop using us. Who decided this, and based on what ?
In the 18 months that followed, we saw the birth of Belgian drone rules, with flight classes, licenses, derogations, notifications and so on. We signed up more users than ever, as the need for support was high. Drone pilots used IDRONECT to create flight scenarios, analyse risks, check weather and notams, all by using realtime data and ADQ charts, and send their flight notifications to the authorities. All of this by following our 3 main values: safety, legality and efficiency.
In the last quarter of 2017 we were recognized for our efforts by being invited to participate in a tender process by then Belgocontrol (now skeyes) to deliver a UTM solution. We found it logical that other providers would be able to connect to the solution that would be offered, we assumed that indeed the solution would never be imposed as the sole solution.
We were not selected despite being our expertise and low cost.
We did not take this to court, we felt that that would halt the drone industry’s progress , which was opposite of our values; we instead decided to focus on making our product even better. Anyway, the authorities stated they would never make the chosen solution mandatory, so we could always cooperate.
However, it now appears that the chosen solution is being made mandatory. We feel we were put to sleep and made to believe we were allowed; we did the notifications (still do actually) in the 21 months it took for the solution to come live.
We think that it is necessary to go back to the present day.
When the BCAA communicated on September 3rd 2019 that the chosen product would become mandatory on 12th of September, and seeing skeyes (formerly Belgocontrol)’s spokespeople declare ‘world premieres’, the time to stand by the sidelines was over.
We immediately engaged into constructive communication with the BCAA. We not only pointed out that we believe that it was in no position to impose the use of the product , but we also asked for the freedom to be able to continue our services to the same public we had been doing for the last nearly 4 years.
We got a transition period of 3 months. This transition period ends on 12th of December 2019. At that day the chosen solution will be made mandatory. No other means of compliance with the drone regulations are made possible. Not via our platform. Not via any other platform.
In the last 2,5 months we engaged multiple times with the BCAA, and once with skeyes, to find a solution. We get a lot of support from our user base and people who do not want to be told what to do, even when it’s free, and especially on a flawed product.
All of our efforts were to no avail. At the end of October, the BCAA has let us know that it will not change its decision and does not want to listen to any of our arguments.
The solution is easy and straightforward however. The BCAA could simply extend the transition period until the new EASA regulations comes into force. In theory this is around July 2020, or 8 months from now. At that moment derogations and notifications as we know it will come to end and the chosen solution becomes obsolete. In fact it took 21 months to make and will be used for 8 months, which cannot be understood.
The BCAA (but much more skeyes) does not want to extend the transition phase. For the sake of safety, they say.
Which safety ? The safety we have helped to uphold for the last 4 years, the last 21 months of which the industry was waiting for the chosen solution ? That safety ? The same safety that has been front and center in our application since day 1 ? The one that we help to control by a realtime risk assessment which goes above and beyond any drone regulation and which every pilot using our platform gets for free (IDROGRADE) ? That safety ?
What is the reason why we absolutely need to get banned from the Belgian drone scene?
What is the reason to force this tool upon the Belgian drone pilots 8 months before new rules will become law?
We felt we had to do something, and hence on November 2nd filed a court case against the BCAA for annulment of the decision to make Droneguide Pro mandatory as of December 12th. We remain of course a strong supporter of a constructive solution. We still hope common sense will prevail. One that protects our rights but also the rights of our users and the drone sector as a whole. We rather spend our time and money on productive aspects, those who help the industry forward.
This is not only a fight for our rights. We also fight for the drone pilot’s rights. And the rights of the multiple useful drone applications and ventures that would be made impossible by a decision to make aforementioned solution mandatory. If you read this and you think your rights are being jeopardized, of you are feeling you are not getting the service you need from the BCAA or from the solution you are forced to use, or if you just support us in our struggle, don’t hesitate to share it with us.
As an epilogue to this post, we also like to share with you our view and opinion on how the drone sector can be helped by offering openness and being connected. Both of which we feel very passionate about.
In an ever evolving world software creators have realised that applications have to work together to get user or customer needs solved and expectations fulfilled as good as possible. It is impossible to offer everything a user needs in one solution. Convenience becomes a commodity. Automation an evidence. The convenience and ease that automation brings is being made possible by smart connections. Connections are made possible by communication protocols.
We as humans use natural language to communicate. That’s even possible for software systems these days, but in the last decades people behind software platforms have used APIs (Application programming interfaces) to allow systems to communicate with one another. Nowadays all systems have some sort of API to allow to integrate data and features from one application to another. Droneguide Pro has not.
The whole thing with connectivity and openness is even more important when we are talking about flying (ro)bots. Even though legislators don’t allow them to fly autonomously everywhere (yet), it’s a public secret that they will do so eventually. Where people would have frowned upon the concept of self-driving cars and the likes, autonomous vacuum cleaners and ever-more connected homes have proven that in the next decade things will shift. And things will shift faster than supporting solutions can follow.
Where (drone) pilots and car drivers are still a necessity today, the next generation will laugh with the very idea. Just like we wouldn’t understand a world without internet, smartphones, airplanes or even electricity, pilotless airplanes and selfdriving cars will be just as common. My grandmother couldn’t even imagine the very same tablet she’s working with today.
Technology is not moving forward with small steps every decade like how it has been. It is now making big leaps every month.
When people or companies want to build innovative applications with drones they will want to make sure that everything can be handled with ease and in an automated fashion. Just like how things are evolving in our everyday lives.
To be able to handle regulatory aspects in those applications side-by-side with the technical, economical, societal,… challenge it may solve. The legal systems and the tools we (have to) use to be compliant have to be adapted to the 21th century.
When authorities choose systems that only look at making their lifes easier, instead of trying to help society and the industry move forward, we go from bad to worse. They create harm upon whole industries to help a few players create monopolies where none are needed.
How can an authority choose for, and try to impose a system that does not want to talk with any other system? They should know they are creating harm to anyone that wants to make a business in the field they are trying to close down.
When looking at drone flight approvals, they close down the possibility to get automated legal clearance to fly in a certain area but favour a system that can only be managed by humans. It’s applying 1990 bureaucracy methods by means of modern technology.
A system that cannot talk with other systems, whether it’s software that happens before or during flights, takes away the possibility for applications that want to integrate regulation in a bigger flow. To unlock yet unknown potential. Anno 2019 on the brink of 2020 we don’t need to explain the variety of applications that could benefit from automated exemption or flight notification handling.
Meanwhile, worldwide there are various examples of already deployed systems that do allow the industry to thrive. The most well-known system is obviously LAANC. It allows for operators in the United States to request exemptions for (small) restricted areas for short amounts of time. It’s way more advanced than the email/digital paper flows that the closed systems such as Droneguide offers. And it allows vendors of any software to connect to this system to offer the drone operators choice in how they want to get permission to fly. Choice in how they want to notify their flights. It allows these people to be compliant without the hassle of being compliant. It allows these companies to thrive. Being deprived of choice – soon the case for companies in Belgium – will cause companies to only suffer and risk to have to put down the books because of unnecessary regulatory burden and insecurity.
When people ask why starting drone companies fail or run away from Belgium. Situations like this could obviously be the reason.
We are in a time where all citizens expect supervisory authorities to be leaner, where CEOs of the big national monopolies complain that their companies will never be as effective as private companies in dealing with the things they have to deal with. During that time we freely give up the possibility to create an open, lean system that makes our industry thrive.
The Droneguide system is a closed system where all drone users are forced to login to request exemptions and send notifications. For drone pilots there is no other reason to use this tool than to perform these actions, which are required by law.
These services could as well be performed through other applications. For example an application that’s integrated with the flight controller of the drone. Applications who are tailored to perform certain inspections, like windmills or solar panels. Or it could be integrated in a full suite of applications to handle all things a drone operator needs, like IDRONECT. And in the future it could automatically be performed from the drone itself without a need from direct user interaction.
By forcing everybody to use one system directly through its interface all the businesses that try to make innovative applications are caused harm. The industry is caused harm as they are losing the opportunity of choice for a specific product. As time goes by newer and more innovative ways of handling certain aspects of a drone business will become apparent, but a monopoly holder will be handling everything and being a monopoly holder will not be able to provide the required flexibility.
In contrast, during the last 24 months, the period within which the nearly obsolete application serving the monopoly in Belgium was created, the FAA has developed a UAS data exchange program. They do not try to monopolise any services other than the things they really need to control. Sending notification or requesting exemptions can be done by third party services and is far more automated than the Skeyes interface. They provide the industry ways to interact with them, and build as few things as possible to prevent hampering the market. They remove any barrier that is not really required.
Note: Removing barriers was recently added to the list of actions to promote the drone industry in the Belgian Civil Drone Council. They can start by removing one by allowing a longer transition period.
Above is a diagram of the FAA LAANC system (part of the UAS data exchange program). You can clearly see that the market is less interrupted and does not need to change from the tools they already use. All the players on the market are able to implement LAANC directly in their applications as soon as they get a LAANC approval from the FAA.
Here is also a list from the FAA website that shows many players implemented this technology in their application. This proves that such an open system is not a request made by the faint. It’s rather how the system should have been in the first place. The fact that BCAA as ruling authority and skeyes are insisting that there needs to be a closed system in Belgium only proves they are not acting in the interest of the industry. Ironically enough, one of the approved service suppliers for LAANC is the company that provides skeyes with this extremely closed system. As this company, hence skeyes and hence BCAA are aware that such a system exists, could be implemented and could be beneficial for the market, why do they insist to close down the market?