By: Eduardo Hernández-Aznar Ripoll, Account Manager of Influence Spain
The European Commission predicts that this industry will generate more than 150,000 jobs in the European Union by 2050. Along these lines, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2023 Report considers that training as a drone pilot will be a job option with a bright future. These projections make sense if we look at the tangible data of the State Aviation Safety Agency (AESA), which in 2022 registered almost twice as many operators as in 2021 (71,177). According to the Global Tracking Platform for Innovative Companies, Tracxn Technologies, the sector will mobilize more than 35 billion euros by 2026. In other words, the next frontier of mobility is urban air mobility.
Innovation and technology, which are accelerating at an exponential rate, inherently entail the risk of regulatory obsolescence. In other words, regulation always moves at a slower pace than the needs of one of the most dynamic sectors in the developed economies of the 21st century. Thus, in Spain, since the incipient Law 18/2014 that regulated “certain civil aircraft by remote control” and the Royal Decree 1036/2017 that took firmer steps, it was not until the approval of the European regulation (Regulation (EU) 2018/1139, and Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 when the first common basic rules on UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) and homogenizations with third countries were established. But it was from 2021, with the U-space 2021/665 Regulation Package (safe, efficient and affordable access to airspace for UAS operations) that the final step was taken towards the standardization of common regulations in the different Member States. Such as, for example, the use of drones in relation to their size or weight (domestic use, transport, or other heavier uses), pilot training, the registration process for new operators and aircraft certification.
Despite these advances of only two years ago, the regulation seems to need further refinement. Now, while the European institutions observe the evolution of the sector, the Spanish Government, through the Ministry of Transport, is drafting a new Royal Decree on UAS that would complement those European provisions not contemplated in the aforementioned regulations. However, the situation of a certain degree of paralysis and the curtailment of some administrative functions due to the different electoral processes may jeopardize the agility demanded by the sector.
What is the industry’s demand today?
A drone, at this moment, is considered an aircraft and, therefore, depends for all purposes on the Spanish Aviation Safety Agency (AESA). Like any booming industry, it requires specialized regulatory development aligned with other related segments, such as aviation. The objective of the sector is to create air corridors through which drones enabled for different public, private or mixed uses can circulate with the necessary safety and not jeopardize other systems, such as road safety. Such an urban flyway would entail taking the flight conditions, height, weight or use to the maximum detail in order to obtain a good performance and adaptation to our current modus vivendi. Therefore, it is necessary to obtain greater bureaucratic agility, speed, adaptation and regulatory alignment with the aeronautical sector in general.
The will exists, both from the European Union, which is currently promoting the development of urban air mobility and granting significant aid, and from the Spanish government, which is working, in addition to the new Royal Decree mentioned above, on a National U-space Deployment Plan (PANDU) 2022 – 2025 in coordination with all public administrations, suppliers, operators, technology centers and universities. However, despite these efforts, there is a lurking fear in the sector of stagnation in the take-off of this new mobility space, since not only political will is needed, but also regulatory agility, flexibility, executive diligence, investment and, above all, endogenous and exogenous security. Spain has made significant progress in the public sector, but it must make the same effort to support the private sector, since it allows, in addition to new avenues of research, tangible and already applicable uses of high added value and competitive as in the pharmaceutical, agricultural or distribution sectors, among others.
In the case of the pharmaceutical industry, in particular the cooperatives, they are making rapid progress in the transport of medicines and products by drones. A concrete example is the case of the Ale-Hop project, which coordinates emergency logistics for hospitals and public agencies. Another sector that can revolutionize drone technology in Spain is the agricultural sector. The advantages for farmers are, a priori, enormous, being able to approach topographies with more precision, to know the state of health of crops or to apply agricultural substances or fertilizers by means of aircraft. The taxi (“air taxi”) sector could reach 32 billion euros by 2035, according to a study by Porsche Consulting. Other sectors, such as private security, industry (for own inspections) or the audiovisual sector are also set to experience their own particular revolution with the creation of urban air mobility.
It is a social, military, economic and industrial challenge, where regulation, agility, commitment and political priority are essential. Competing market players are the backbone of urban air mobility. In order to ensure a safe urban air mobility space that takes into account the needs and demands of citizens, while generating growth and employment, it is essential that all stakeholders are part of the debate on the future of this new market and its regulation.