News   •

22 October 2020

Unmanned Valley to partner with AirHub for the facilitation of BVLOS test flights

At the moment, test flights with drones that fly outside a pilot’s visual line of sight are only performed sporadically in the Netherlands. For these ‘Beyond Visual Line of Sight’ or BVLOS flights, permission has to be arranged before each flight. Unmanned Valley – the field lab for sensor technologies and applications at the former Valkenburg naval air base in Katwijk, a coastal town located 16 kilometers north of The Hague in the Netherlands – wants to create an environment in which BVLOS concepts can be structurally tested and demonstrated. With support from drone consultancy and software developer AirHub, Unmanned Valley is launching a study into the exact route of a corridor from Unmanned Valley to the sea and the preconditions under which BVLOS flights can be carried out in this corridor.

This project is a collaboration with the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, the Environment and Transport Inspectorate, regional nature conservationist and drinking water supply company Dunea, State Forestry (‘Staatsbosbeheer’) and other stakeholders. The aim is to create a ‘risk-based and controlled’ test environment in which companies, knowledge institutions and the Dutch government can gain experience for future business cases, safety and regulations. At the same time, it will give an enormous boost to the further development of innovative drone applications and the Dutch drone sector.

“The use of drones is booming in numerous sectors. In particular, the economic and social potential of BVLOS applications is enormous. To fully exploit this, it is essential that there is a structural possibility for BVLOS test flights in 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 manner. The location is about 3.5 km from the North Sea and outside a controlled airspace (CTR) of airports and other no-fly zones.”

Companies in various sectors are showing increasing interest in the possibilities of BVLOS-flying. For example, for the inspection of wind turbines at sea or high tension pylons, for emergency transport of medical goods or supplying sea-going vessels or for supporting emergency services during natural disasters.

“Experience with BVLOS projects at home and abroad shows the potential. That said, there are still steps to be taken, especially in the areas of technology, social acceptance and laws and regulations,” said Stephan van Vuren, drone consultant and co-founder of AirHub. “Collaboration is the key concept. When all stakeholders help to remove barriers and we can thereby create a structural opportunity for testing and demonstrating BVLOS concepts, we move the sector forward, support the scalability and public acceptance of innovative applications, prevent innovation from leaking out to neighbouring countries and at the same time make a substantial contribution to a robust framework for ‘real BVLOS operations’ in the future.”

Unmanned Valley is an initiative of Delft University of Technology and the municipality of Katwijk. It has been made possible by the Dutch central and regional government as well as the EU’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The first companies have already moved to Unmanned Valley. In time, Unmanned Valley should grow into a seedbed for high-tech activity.