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14 July 2020

MAVLab and Unmanned Valley want to enable BVLOS test flights as soon as this year

When European drone regulations are introduced in 2021, the Netherlands will have the opportunity to set up areas where less strict rules apply to flying with drones; for example, for testing and experimenting. In the run-up to this, Unmanned Valley and Delft University of Technology’s Micro Air Vehicle Laboratory (MAVLab) want to enable structural test flights beyond the pilot’s sight (Beyond Visual Line Of Sight; BVLOS) this year.

The plan is to realise the possibility for structural BVLOS test flights in phases. First from ships at sea, then from the shore and finally through a corridor to the sea from Unmanned Valley at the former Valkenburg naval air base. Constructive talks on this topic are being held with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate and other stakeholders.

The possibility of using Unmanned Valley for BVLOS test flights and market demonstrations as soon as this year will help companies, knowledge institutions and the Dutch government gain experience that will serve as input for future business cases, safety and regulations. At the same time, BVLOS flying means an enormous boost for the further development of drone applications and the Dutch drone sector as a whole.

“The greatest economic and social potential of drones lies in professional BVLOS flying. It opens up a range of possibilities,” says Bart Remes, MAVLab project manager. “Worldwide, the drone sector is developing at a rapid pace. The Netherlands has a good starting position, but if we want to take full advantage of it, it is essential that there are structural opportunities for BVLOS test flights. In Europe, the cake is now being divided, so the sooner the space is available, the better.”

“In March 2018, MAVLab conducted the first BVLOS test flight in the Netherlands. Since then a lot of knowledge has been gained about BVLOS flying, in the Netherlands and abroad. The delayed introduction of EU regulations does not have to mean a delay for the Netherlands,” says Theo de Vries, programme manager at Unmanned Valley. “Unmanned Valley offers a unique opportunity to research, develop and test drones and other sensor-based innovations in a responsible way. The location is about 3.5 km from the North Sea and outside the controlled airspace (CTR) of active airports. Against this background, there is accordingly also the space to test, for example, UTM concepts such as an electronic licence plate for drones, accurate drone tracking and geo-fencing.”

With the increasing sophistication of drones, attention has shifted in recent years to developing innovative applications. Drones are already being used for applications that were still a dream only a few years ago. For example, at sea, for inspecting and maintaining wind farms or tracing drowning people; in logistics, for transporting materials to and from ships or the emergency transport of medical goods; in tracking and monitoring, for signalling the onset of dune or heather infestations or inspecting water quality; or in precision agriculture, to determine where and how much crop protection should be applied.

Unmanned Valley is an initiative of Delft University of Technology and the municipality of Katwijk and has been made possible by a contribution from the EU’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Since the establishment of the Unmanned Valley foundation in March 2018, great strides have been made and a solid foundation has been laid for the further development of the field lab.
In recent years the Dutch Central Government Real Estate Agency (‘Rijksvastgoedbedrijf’) has sustainably renovated and transformed the former aircraft workshop at the former naval air base into an inspirational working environment. This month, the first companies will move into Unmanned Valley.