Unifly is active at Antwerp airport, their aim is to ensure that the airspace remains safe in the face of the ever-increasing number of drones. So that unmanned aircraft can be properly integrated into airspace. The expansion of Unifly has taken off exponentially, bearing in mind the millions that investors are investing in it.
CEO Marc Kegelaers explains this success in more detail.
What was the motivation for starting Unifly?
In 2012, two air traffic controllers were confronted with the presence of drones in their airspace. A drone was visible, but where was the pilot? And how could you contact the pilot? In other words: how is it possible to safely integrate drones into existing air traffic? Based on this question, a team of air traffic controllers, pilots and engineers worked together on a solution for Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM). They successfully presented their concept in 2014 at the Sesar SWIM Master Class, the world’s leading event for new developments in this sector. Our second place at this event put us on the international map and on the radar of all the major players. Unifly was born.
What does Unifly do?
Unifly is a technology company. Our goal is to make a difference on a global level so that the drone sector can realize its potential. That is why we offer an all-round solution to integrate drones into the airspace in a safe and comprehensive way.
Authorities are able to see the drones and manage their airspace. Drone pilots are able to schedule their flights, ask for permission and maintain their logbook. One of the most important pillars of the system is the automation of flight requests and their authorization by the authorities. Unifly has also designed the BLIP system. This device works as a digital license plate and tracker for the drones that are flying around in our airspace. This is how we keep the airspace safe.
Are there any other similar companies active?
Yes, there are initiatives happening all over the world that want to solve the problem of ‘drone management’. These are the typical Silicon Valley start-ups, but also major players such as Thales and Indra – who are nowadays leading the manned aviation industry in the right direction.
The main difference, however, lies in the fact that Unifly is the only company that offers the (soon to be compulsory) e-Identification and tracker via its BLIP system and the authorities have a special role to play in that. Consequently, the authorities regain control of the airspace without a drone pilot having to sacrifice any aspects of user-friendliness.
What is the response to the integration of drones?
Drones have an enormous number of applications, for instance inspection flights, precision agriculture, transport of packages and, of course, air taxis. Everyone is curious about the evolution of drones and the new air traffic that goes with it. The same questions and concerns about safety are always raised. Concerns that Unifly hopes to alleviate.
What has been the main obstacle so far?
A major obstacle is that we are basically laying the train tracks after the train has already left the station. Technology is evolving at a rapid pace and legislation is struggling to keep up with this pace. Fortunately, the new EU legislation that will enable a uniform European drone market will soon be in place. The number of drones is only going to increase and our solution is needed for this to happen safely.
What has been the highlight for Unifly?
Unifly’s brief history is packed with all sorts of highlights. These include the opening of our New York office, the successful raising of €17 million, the launch of Droneguide in Belgium and the celebration of our 50th employee.
What do you expect for the coming year?
There is a growing awareness on an international level that drones are not toys and that it is essential to manage drone traffic properly. Moreover, technological developments will continue to evolve thanks to the cross-pollination between all kinds of technological companies. Just think of artificial intelligence, radar, 5G. These technologies will be crucial in order to be able to take the next step.
And where will Unifly be in five years time?
We are the market leader in unmanned traffic management, UTM. The whole world looks to us as a knowledge leader, as a conscious leader, in our sector. I expect that the drone sector will be booming in the coming years and that we will play a major role in it. We currently have a unique idea that solves a global problem. Thanks to our solid team made up of passionate professionals, resources and ambition, we expect that we’ll become a major player on the market within a few years.