Marlyn drone, Unmanned Valley
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How the Dutch government interprets the European rules is bothering the drone industry in the Netherlands quite a bit. So much so that a coalition of companies, knowledge institutions, and governments has drafted a manifesto to call on the outgoing cabinet to take steps. “The Netherlands is an innovation country; our country leads the way in many sectors. Yet we risk losing our position in unmanned aviation,” the signatories fear. “Innovative companies cannot test their applications and techniques in practice due to the current interpretation of European rules. As a result, they are sometimes forced to go abroad.”

Why do you need to read this?

According to tests in different places in Europe, drones can seek solutions in various fields. These include energy transition, medical transportation, modern agriculture, and critical infrastructure security. But drones also encounter legal and societal resistance.

It’s all about flying outside the pilot’s line of sight, officially known as “Beyond Visual Line Of Sight,” or BVLOS for short. Minister Harbers came to the drone center Unmanned Valley in Katwijk this week to accept the BVLOS manifesto. The minister acknowledged in an initial reaction that there’s still a lot of work to do. “I see this manifesto as a good incentive.”

Great opportunities

The signatories want the ministry, like other European countries, to designate areas where it is possible to fly outside the pilot’s sight. The Dutch drone coalition points to the “great opportunities” that BVLOS flights offer for energy transition, medical transport, modern agriculture, and critical infrastructure security, among others. However, the coalition says the current Dutch interpretation of European legislation hinders developing and applying these crucial technologies, forcing Dutch companies to seek refuge abroad.

BVLOS-manifest Unmanned Valley
BVLOS-manifest Unmanned Valley

Leading Dutch organizations such as TU Delft, NLR, Atmos, Van Oord, High Eye, Unmanned Valley, Droneport Rotterdam, Drone Flight Academy, the ANWB, and the Royal Dutch Aviation Association have expressed their support for the manifesto. With this joint initiative, the parties involved hope to spur the Dutch government into action. The municipality of Katwijk, where much drone innovation is taking place, also signed the manifesto.

“Because of the obstacles, we are starting to lag behind in Europe. And that while we have so much knowledge and talent. We have to change something about that.”

Cornelis Visser (Mayor of the Municipality of Katwijk)

Proven concept

According to the signatories, the successful implementation of BVLOS test areas in countries such as Denmark, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Belgium emphasizes the feasibility and necessity of such places in the Netherlands. The manifesto calls for the designation of test zones over uninhabited areas by the second quarter of 2024. In recent years, Unmanned Valley has set up a corridor to fly safely toward the North Sea. This area has drone radars and other equipment to monitor the airspace continuously.

“BVLOS flying is now proven technology,” says Unmanned Valley director Theo de Vries. “The whole industry is ready for it and expects the ministry to finally make BVLOS flying possible in the Netherlands with clear regulations.”