Dutch aviation authority enables the use of automatic drones for inspections and surveillance

Recently it has finally been allowed to use automatic drones in the Netherlands for inspection and surveillance purposes. To make this possible, the Dutch aviation authority ILT has published a first predefined risk analysis (PDRA), which can be implemented by holders of an RPAS Operator Certificate (ROC).

Many possible applications

Many parties have the desire to be able to use automatic drones. For example, Rijkswaterstaat wants to place drone boxes at strategic locations from which drones can take off to assist in calamities on waterways. The fire brigade sees opportunities in drones that can go off on a fire alarm, and many security companies are considering using drones to monitor industrial complexes or business parks. Finally, numerous applications in the field of automatic inspections of industrial installations are conceivable.

In many cases, such applications are only cost-effective if the drone can take off independently from a box, and then be controlled remotely by an operator in a control room. The traditional role of on-site drone pilot will then be discontinued. This also means that the operator does not have a direct view of the device, which was a major obstacle from a regulatory point of view for a long time: BVLOS flight is a sensitive subject for the Dutch aviation authority.

PDRA Remote UAS operations

With the publication of PDRA-01-CAA-NL2020 – Remote UAS operations by the ILT, it has finally become possible to deploy self-flying drones and drone boxes. This predefined risk analysis, which was developed by AirHub on behalf of Rijkswaterstaat, can be added relatively easily to the operations of ROC permit holders, and probably also by operators in the Specific category in the future. To this end, the operations manual must be adapted in accordance with the requirements listed in the PDRA. There is a lot of emphasis on the command and control link, the user interface (HMI) and the general design of the system.

There are a number of preconditions. For example, the drone may only fly above territory that is not accessible to unauthorized persons. Also, the flights may only take place in uncontrolled airspace, up to a flight height of 50 meters, or 30 meters above the highest object in the vicinity. The drone may weigh a maximum of 1 kg. Furthermore, the operator must have procedures in place in case the connection to the drone is lost, all actions must be logged and the operating personnel must be adequately trained.

First implementation

The publication of this first PDRA is good news for operators who use automatic flying drones or want to use drone boxes. One of the parties that will immediately implement the PDRA is Mapture.ai. This start-up developed a dronebox based on the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise, which, with its 900 grams, remains within the set weight limit. A dronebox from this operator was recently installed on the roof of a fire station in Twente, and Rijkswaterstaat also wants to use the Mapture.ai system in the recently opened test area for automatic drones on the Waal river.

However, there is also a point of criticism. For example, the maximum weight of 1 kg for the UAS means that the drone-in-a-box systems from market leaders DroneMatrix, Azur and Percepto – which are already in full use in other countries – immediately disqualify. This means that those systems can only be deployed on the basis of a SORA to be elaborated by the operator. Such a tailor-made risk analysis entails a lot of extra homework.

Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager is the founder of Dronewatch (available in Dutch and English). Wiebe is an experienced drone pilot (RPA-L certified) and has published a number of books about drone photography and cinematography.

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