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UAS – The US Laps Europe on UAS Innovation and Regulation

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We once again turn our attention to Europe, where SESAR has just released a comprehensive study on the European Drone Outlook.  SESAR, or the Single European Sky ATM Research project, was established in 2007 as a public-private partnership and is responsible for the modernization of the European air traffic management (ATM) system.

The study opens by warning that Europe risks falling behind the rest of the world in exploiting the UAS boom, as both the US and China spend more on technology and innovation than all European countries combined.  The study projects total demand for UAS services in Europe at $10 billion per year by 2035 and $15 billion per year by 2050.  The study also projects the total number of consumer drones in use in Europe by 2050 at 7 million aircraft, with another 400,000 commercial and government aircraft.  As in the US, the biggest user of drones is expected to be in the agricultural sector, which will account for nearly 25% of all commercial operators.  In addition, the UAS industry is expected to create 100,000 new jobs Europe wide.

The study warns the Europe only has 5-10 years to put the basic infrastructure for UAS airspace integration in place, including working detect and avoid and low level traffic management systems.  The study believes that it will take at least $200 million in additional research and development spending to make this a reality.  Any delay beyond that timeline puts the EU at a substantial competitive disadvantage, and makes it increasingly difficult to the EU to keep up with the rest of the world.

One of the other major focuses of the report is the need for UAS air traffic and regulatory systems to be created and run above the level of the member states and instead run at the EU level.  In particular, SESAR is wary of the results if each member state pursues unmanned traffic management solutions on their own, as there will be duplication of effort and a fragmentation of solutions, making it difficult for companies to do cross-border work as the systems mature.

After having read numerous stories over the years that the US is falling behind Europe in the race to integrate UAS, it is nice to see a comprehensive study that shows the opposite.  Of course, this challenge comes at a bad time for Europe, with Brexit in full swing, and the possibilities of Frexit, Grexit, Oexit, etc., looming, it may become increasingly difficult to find the will to make the substantial investments in technology and systems the report calls for.  Only time will tell whether Europe will be able to take advantage of the bright future the study predicts.