Drone operators who want to perform drone flights in the controlled airspace around Schiphol airport are increasingly running against the limit on the variety of synchronised allowed drone flights. Applications are turned down and sometimes no clearance is provided at the last minute, which avoids designated flights from continuing. In the end, U-space has to use some solace, however that is not a short-term service.

Managed flights

A growing variety of drone operators in the Specific category are enabled to perform drone flights in civilian CTRs, such as Schiphol’s. Since drone flights in the Netherlands are equated to VFR air traffic, according to the law, all drone flights in a CTR should be actively controlled by an air traffic controller.

Nevertheless, air traffic control service has a minimal capability. For this reason, a limit has been set on the number of drone flights that can take place simultaneously. Spokeswoman Anneroos van Eijk of LVNL discusses why that is: “A drone can not be seen for the air traffic controller on the tower, which requires procedural separation with other air traffic. The bring in air traffic and the truth that visual separation is not possible involves more workload for the air traffic controller, which indicates that we have to put restrictions on the number of drone flights at the very same time in CTR.”

Bottleneck

How many drone flights can occur at the same time depends on the pressure. In Schiphol CTR 1, an optimum of one drone and one emergency drone per control tower at the very same time uses. If only Toren Centrum is functional, then at some point just one industrial drone flight can happen. If Toren West (in addition to the Polderbaan) is also active, there is a maximum of 2 commercial drone flights at the same time in Schiphol’s CTR.

Because more and more drone operations are taking place in the CTR of Schiphol (that includes a large part of Amsterdam, Haarlem, Hoofddorp and Amstelveen), the capacity is increasingly reached with the outcome that pre-authorizations– sometimes at the last minute– are turned down. This suggests that movie recordings, photography tasks or inspections will not have the ability to take place. As a result, operators get in difficulty with their planning, or even have to cancel projects and lose out on revenue. It doesn’t help that some fellow drone companies sometimes’ block ‘for days.

Market Responses

Jorrit Pit (AerialLive): “I just recently wished to arrange a shoot at the Zuidas for the Municipality of Amsterdam. This shoot needed to take place on a particular day. Regrettably, 2 other drones had actually already been scheduled that day, and so the shoot could not take place. I am pleased with the expanded possibilities to run flights in CTRs, but if there is no capability to collaborate these flights then, I still have little usage to that.”

Dronewatch likewise recently hit the limitation. Soon after requesting a pre-authorization for a short image flight above Rijnsaterwoude, 15 km far from Schiphol, an e-mail originated from LVNL: “Unfortunately, we can not accept this request due to reaching the maximum variety of permitted drone operations in EHAM CTR. You might have the ability to provide this ask for another day.”

With market association DCRO, more and more operators are likewise grumbling about turned down authorizations. Chairman Martijn Arkesteijn: “Our members are progressively identifying and registering this traffic jam. We also believe this is an undesirable circumstance, however believe proactively with LVNL.”

Option Directions

One solution could be to have all drone traffic dealt with instantly, through Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM). But it is far from that, Martijn Arkesteijn likewise concurs: “In the end, U-space and UTM have to provide an option, but that will take a while and is not a solution now.”

Is more capability in the short-term than the service, in order to lower the work at LVNL? Ruben de Lange (Vortex Technology Services) does not say: “The issue is that the CTRs are defined far too big from the point of view of a drone operator, beginning directly above AGL. For every single flight, we must request a clearance from LVNL, which creates a massive workload, while we certainly do not encounter any other air traffic at extremely low flight altitude (up to 50 meters). One option may be to ask drone operators to listen to the radio, but not require clearance up to 50 meters AGL for example. I think this conserves a lot of money and workload for a lot of drone work.”

Arkesteijn sees a possible partial option for evaluation flights in exempting irregular airspace. “In order to likewise make it possible for examinations of items, such as storage tanks and homes, these flights could be identified as irregular. To this end, the drone may not fly even more than thirty meters far from the things, however this fits completely in the context of inspections. In Germany, there is currently substantial testing with this model.”

Wiebe de Jager: “The Netherlands might take an example to other EU countries. For instance, I was asked a few days ago to make droneshots near a big airport in the Czech Republic. There you can even fly as much as 100 meters high in the Open category 5.5 km away from the airport. Why can it be there, and we’re doing so hard here, I wonder. Didn’t we have uniform European rules?”

Tension field

LVNL acknowledges that there is a stress field, however says it is dealing with enhancements. Van Eijk: “LVNL is extremely aware of the demand and the chances. We help with where we can. Up until the arrival of U-space and being able to entrust lower airspace to a USSP, there remains a stress between security, capability, drone observation, operator interaction, the financing design of regulated drone operations for every single air traffic control company. and policies that are not tailored to this brand-new classification of CTR traffic. LVNL is trying to enhance this both nationally and worldwide. We participate in numerous gremia to influence matters.”

(cover photo: Atamari, CC-BY-SA/ screenshot GoDrone)