The work organization HLTsamen is the first municipal organization in the Netherlands to have its own drone with drone pilot and a full ROC permit. The goal is to use drones for data collection for basic registration, enforcement and real estate inspections. For this edition of Drone Talk, we spoke with co-initiator and drone pilot Hugo Geerlings of the HLT-drone team about the process and objectives.

What exactly does HLTsamen stand for?

“HLT stands for the municipalities of Hillegom Lisse and Teylingen. It is a professional organization that performs municipal tasks for three municipalities. As it is called, the work organization is’ servile ‘to three municipal authorities.”

How did you come into contact with drones yourself?

“Around 2005, I was on a user day of a software company that deals with the management of the Public Space. During one of the sessions, two boys were enthusiastic about the possibilities of their drone. It was a fixed-wing device that was shot up with a launcher. They had a whole story about laws and regulations and the time that went into the permits. Then I thought: what an exaggerated story about those regulations. But, now I know better.

Four years ago, I started flying as a hobby pilot with a quadcopter from the DJI Phantom 3 series. Just to shoot nice pictures and videos from a different perspective. The result was pretty good with a 4K camera. Now I’m flying a DJI Inspire 2 with X5S camera. The innovative use and drone technology appeals to me enormously. What can we do with it now and later in the future.”

How did you come up with the idea of using drones for municipal tasks?

“My work is about building and maintaining the BGT (Basic Registration Large-Scale Topography) and the BAG (Basic Registration Addresses and Buildings). From that role, I started to delve into the possibilities of extracting data with drones. That is not new in itself. There are several companies already working in this area. The challenge is, in particular, to use the drones as a municipality in such a way that it can be taken advantage of this.”

Which permit did you choose for?

“To be able to do more with the drone in the municipality, such as flying above buildings and close to motorways, we have committed to a full ROC permit. Before that, I took an RPA-L theory and practical training at NLR. Our operational manual has been prepared by Aerial Pro. We applied for the ROC permit at the beginning of 2019. The permit was granted in January 2020, so we had to wait almost eight months for this; not counting is the preparation time for preparing the permit application and drafting the handbook.”

What tasks does HLT want to use drones together for?

“This year would be dominated by a number of experiments, but the COVID-19 crisis threw a spanner in the works. During the first months of the crisis, together with the police, we were able to make many flying hours in almost the entire Bulb region to monitor the numbers of visitors to the bulb fields and the beach.

The experiments that we still want to pick up as a drone team include:

  • Optimizing current recovery and processing methods;
  • Responding to future developments such as the SOR (Coherent Objects Registration) and the DSO (Digital System Environmental Act);
  • Municipal real estate inspections;
  • Commitment to

  • enforcement – and safety tasks and incident control;
  • Use of drone images for communication, presentation and education objectives;
  • Various research applications and data collection for example monitoring and control in various municipal policy areas;
  • 3D possibilities integration of new construction projects.”

How is the drone team embedded in the organization?

“Due to the wide differences in applications, the drone team continuously seeks the connection with other expertise and competencies that can think along to find and carry out a variety of experiments. This includes data analysts, FG (Data Protection Officer), communication consultants and project employees. It also looks at whether we can enter into collaborations with, for example, Unmanned Valley (Valkenburg) in Katwijk.

Within HLT, employees can request a drone deployment that can support their work now or in the future. With the drone team, we will then check whether this request falls under one of the mentioned applications, or is an addition to this. The drone offers new perspectives to view existing registrations and the processes behind them. By experimenting with this, we want to gain experience and then weigh whether sufficient results are achieved to give the drone a structural basis.”

How do you approach the communication around the deployment of the drone?

“Planning a flight is not just about making an escape plan, but also the communication around it. Communication is of great importance, especially with a drone commitment over buildings. In our municipalities, the location of the drone deployment is placed on the website and shared on social media.
In addition, we have special flags that are placed on either side of the operating area (where the drone flies) to alert the inhabitants during the flight. When drawing up the flight plan, various aspects are taken into account, such as the weather conditions and the risk analyses that are included in our handbook.”

At which locations is the drone currently mainly used?

“The drone is currently the most used in new construction districts and outlying areas of the municipalities. This is currently only possible in Lisse and Teylingen. The municipality of Hillegom and a small part of Lisse is located in the outer ring of the CTR (Controlled Traffic Region) of Schiphol. We are currently figuring out how to make flying in the outer ring possible, as this requires additional issues and preparations, such as an LPE (Language Proficiency Endorsement), RT (Radio Telephony) and an exemption with adjustments to the manual with the standard scenario, STS-1A-CAA-NL-CTR-V1.2.”

What are the main pitfalls?

“The biggest pitfall we run into is the unfamiliarity with the technology and the possibilities of the drone. The words “yes, but” are often taken in the mouth. Think of the privacy legislation, for example. Figuring out and drafting a DPIA (Data Protection Impact Assessment) is a daunting task.

Flying a drone in business has more feet in the Earth than making amateur flights. Many things are also new to the brand new drone team. We want everything to be right before we go into the air and that takes (preparation) time.”

One of your future experiments is called Basis Up. What does this mean?

“The working title for the drone experiment Basis Up comes from keeping the basic registrations: Basic. Keeping those registrations is required by law. With this experiment, we want to take the basic registrations to the next level: from 2D to 3D, that is the ‘Up’ in Basic Up. Think of the abbreviations that have already been mentioned: the DSO, the SOR, BGT and BAG.

In the future, we want to automatic mutation detection for the basic registrations by means of machine learning from satellite images and other data. How nice would it be if, in addition to that automatic detection, the drone goes completely autonomously to the location to obtain the specific data that is suitable for the basic registration.”

What do you think of the VNG white paper “Drones within the congregation”, which appeared last summer?

“The white paper has become a nice document with valuable content for municipalities and other governments. But also for those who want to start in this rapidly growing world of drone technology. The drone has been seen as a toy for years, but is proving more and more useful due to developments in terms of technology and in the economic areas. I would therefore like to warmly recommend the white paper ‘Drones within the municipality’. It has become a big document and it should definitely be read through, but the content page quickly takes you where you are interested in or what matters.”

What is your advice to other municipalities who want to get started with drones?

“My advice to get started in your municipality: make sure you can get a good team together, that can also think out of the box if necessary. But this must certainly include a team member who can put you back on the floor with both legs. Establish contacts with companies that can help you further in this difficult matter of legislation and regulations. It is also different for each municipality how to start new developments. Let yourself be well informed. Don’t forget to read through the VNG white paper as well. There are lots of valuable tips and facts in this.”

What are the most important sources of information for you?

“For me, the most important sources for information are still the website of the Environment and Transport Inspectorate (part of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management), the company that has prepared the handbook for us, but also possible to connect and stay in touch with fellow droners. A platform for professional drone users would be a solution to be able to share information and experiences with each other.”

Can you also contact you for more information?

“The HLTsamen drone team has only officially started. We too still have a lot to discover and learn. I would suggest that municipalities that start with drones go to work first as I indicated in my advice. If there are still questions left, the HLT drone team is always ready to answer this.”

How do you stand against the introduction of the EU drone regulations?

“It is good that Europe deals with laws and regulations in the field of aviation. Uniform policy within this profession is certainly desirable, especially in the field of unmanned aircraft. This is important because developments in this are very fast. I don’t think that there is no distinction between recreational and occupational users in the ‘Open’ category anymore. It is important that the group of professional pilots is recognizable, in order to be able to carry out their drone operations properly and safely.

I still see an obstacle in enforcement, especially in the area of privacy. With drones less than 250 grams, you can get almost everything when the European legislation is introduced. But the GDPR also applies and it is quite complicated, and you don’t just do the drafting of a Data Protection Impact Assessment. You need a lot of knowledge of this legislation to be able to draw up a good DPIA.”

Do you have one last comment?

“Flying with a drone, small or large, light or heavy, it remains a great activity. The challenge is to discover something new again and again in the possibilities of this aircraft.”