Very soon drones will have an official flight path within Dutch airspace. An important milestone for the industry. The new flight route runs from the former Valkenburg Air Base (Zuid-Holland) to the North Sea and will be put to use at the beginning of 2023.
Program manager Theo de Vries of Unmanned Valley presented the plans on Thursday 3 November during the Drone Council Netherlands meeting. The theme was the future air traffic control system for all unmanned aviation in Europe; U-Space.
“Making BVLOS flying possible at Unmanned Valley… Many dronecompanies testing at Unmanned Valley are already able to perform this type of operations, so it’s a small step for the industry, but a big step for the regulations that allow us to finally try out many new applications”. – Theo de Vries (Program Manager Unmanned Valley)
The corridor will be used for so-called BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line Of Sight) flights. During this type of operation a drone flies beyond the pilot’s sight, sometimes even completely autonomously. In the Netherlands, a drone pilot must be able to see the unmanned vehicle at all times. Unless an exemption has been granted for each flight separately. Obtaining such an exemption in the Netherlands proves to be a time-consuming and complex process for many companies. A BVLOS testing facility is necessary to prevent these types of innovative companies from moving their activities abroad. With the government exemption to operate this type of flight, Unmanned Valley will lower the threshold considerably, which will benefit the drone industry as a whole.
Autonomous and efficient
The advantage of this flight path above the sea is that it is possible to fly further and safer. This allows drones to be used for periodic inspections of wind turbines, floating solar parks and other infrastructure. Something that is still very labour-intensive and environmentally harmful. Drones will soon be able to do this largely autonomously and more efficiently. Unmanned Valley can function as an important drone hub in this regard. Other applications are also being looked at, such as supplying ships or platforms, taking bulk samples of cargo, or searching for drowning people at sea.
First test flight
The corridor was successfully put into use by TU Delft’s MAVlab on Friday 28 October. They were able to make the first test flight with their AED drone. This drone is able to deliver life-saving AEDs to places that emergency services have difficulty reaching. Taking into account the increase in drones in the airspace and the safety of all air users, the MAVLab has also developed an avoidance algorithm. This will allow drones to automatically detect, avoid and use priority rules in the near future.
“At sea there is a lot of economic activity in which drones can play a role. This corridor enables us to capitalize on these opportunities.”
Bart Remes (Project Manager MAVLab)
There have been experiments with BVLOS flights abroad for some time. So the new flight route does not come a moment too soon for the Dutch drone sector. The corridor to the sea is a first in the country!