Amsterdam Drone Week interviewed Marc Kegelaers, CEO of Unifly about the current and future developments in the UAM industry. Unifly is as a high tech company, a key player in designing the UTM platform in Belgium, Germany and recently as well in Canada. In Belgium, Unifly started a consortium: SAFIR, where Unifly provided the UTM technology for. In the region Antwerp, 18 different use cases were demonstrated of demonstrations of drone operations such as drone delivery or mapping and inspection. Besides SAFIR, Unifly is active in multiple projects with a focus on safe and efficient integration of drone traffic.
What impact has COVID-19 on Unifly?
“These are challenging times of course, but we as high tech company and especially our software developers are used to work from home. As business, we are lucky that we have major clients such as Deutsche Fluchtsicherung and NAV Canada. They have decided that the UTM projects are a high priority, so the projects should continue during these challenging times. The uncertainty that we currently have, is that we do not know the status of new projects. Our clients are ANSP’s (Air Navigation Service Providers) and they are currently losing 70-80% of their business. At the same time, we see that at some places on the world UTM projects are accelerating. A positive development from this pandemedic is that COVID-19 made drone solutions accelerate as well.”
What is the current status of the SAFIR demonstration project?
“First, to be clear SAFIR stands for Safe and Flexible Integration of Initial U-space Services in a Real environment. The project SAFIR is ended successfully with 18 demonstrations of different drone operations. These demonstrations consists of (medical) drone delivery, power line mapping, surveillance flights and pylon inspection. The SAFIR-project proves with different use cases that safely operating and managing drones in critical areas could be done. We work together with 3 other U-space service providers (USP’s) and the Belgium Air Traffic Control to control the airspace together.”
“We definitely could call the project a success and we are proud of the end result, because it was a complex project. We have flown above a operational port, above a city, and an extended runway of a international airport. All of the complex challenges that you could imagine were present, but all of the demonstrations were ended successfully. For example, we did inspections for the Port of Antwerp, inspections on wind mills and delivered medical goods. The next step is to implement this project, but the regulations needs to be set first. We have to be patience, before all of the drone solutions can become reality”
What are the next steps?
“We have learned many lessons from the past and use these experiences for our current projects. This resulted in a contract with NAV Canada, where we design their national UTM system with the European technology. Besides Russia, Canada has the biggest airspace in the world. It is a honour, that they have chosen for the European technology. This proves that Europan high tech companies could be the key players worldwide. I invite the UAM industry to explore what the possibilities are without any limits or boundaries.”
“In Europe, the Belgium U-space is currently operational and we worked together with Skeyes. Besides Belgium, we are active in Denmark, Austria and Germany. What we see in Europe is that many countries are await, because the rules and regulations on U-space are not defined yet. Technically, it is perfectly possible to implement an national UTM system for each country that support current national regulations for drone flights. However, you will be inventing something new each time. You will need all of the regulations be defined first to have a clear overview. When the rules and regulations are defined, everyone knows what the possibilities are and we could accelerate.”
Which partners are important for you?
“Besides ANSP’s and the big drones operators, we work together with counter drones companies, so we can control the airspace better. Together, we know which drones are allowed to fly and we will know what drones are flying illegal, so we could approach them. This is an important aspect of Urban Air Mobility. At the end, you would like to know which drone is flying above your city.”
What is important for a partnership?
“Complementarity, that you complement and respect each other. That are the basic elements for me to have a good partnership.
Antwerp has a smart city strategy and are you a part of this?
“Absolutely, we are very happy to be part of the smart city strategy. The port of Antwerp is a precursor of drone solutions and we work closely together with them. Currently, we are in the operational phase, which is a difficult phase because you have to note many parties which are involved in a port. We are busy to make the port of Antwerp a geo-zone manager, so we could flight with drones under restrictions. A port is just like a city, where a lot happens from inspection to logistics. We are testing now with oil spill detection. Drones could detect oil spill around ships. The drones helps with faster detection and cleaning, which results in an increase in efficiency for sail traffic and benefits the environment as well,” emphasizes Kegelaers.
Unifly is a Belgium based company with locations in New York, Copenhagen and Bogota.
Unifly develops and delivers U-space technology to ANSPs, USPs, Geo-zone Managers and drone operators. They are strongly focused to safely integrate of drones into the airspace.
Unifly is a global leader in the field of Unmanned Traffic Mangement and is involved in twelve European U-space research and demonstration projects with their technology. Unifly is a strategic technology partner for the design of national UTM systems in Belgium, Canada en Germany.
Since the beginning of 2019, Unifly delivers hardware as well: the on-board “BLIP”. This makes sure that there is a electronic identification of the drone, and makes it possible to track the drone in real-time.
The Unifly-platform supports drone operators by planning and excution of activities, which is allowed according to the rules and regulations. It allows the authorities to follow and control drone activities in their airspace. For more information www.unifly.aero