Many of our readers likely joined the event in Amsterdam last week. Many of our readers also likely endured severe inbound flight issues like myself due to weather challenges and an ATC Radar outage. Although, I ultimately arrived – a day late, this unfortunately cut short the time I had to fully explore all of the great topics at the event.

As a result, my coverage will focus on the interesting one-to-one conversations I was able to have during the show.

2024 is the year we move from experiments to operation

At the 2024 Amsterdam Drone Week there was a lot of discussion about this being the year we move from experiments/trials to operation/commercialisation. The goal of certification as USSP providers by year end was also something I heard from many different players. Although it was interesting to hear how many thought they would be the first or second to be certified in Europe. I guess we’ll all have to wait and see who wins this race.

The role of telcommunications

I had an very insightful discussion with Ericsson about the work they are doing with airline OEMs on the topic of communication. There are two categories of communications being worked – mission critical communications and communications that don’t impact actual flight safety. One topic in the first category is live streaming of black box data. It’s easy to see the value in the ability to do this. The second category could provide WiFi for onboard usage and basic telemetry data.

VHF communications need to become digitalised. The use of older satellite technologies are too costly. Satellites with 5G/6G would change this cost model and could be integrated to low earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

Work is focusing on re-using existing 3GPP standards and creating aviation specific solutions. Backward compatibility to existing communications systems will be necessary as these upgrades will not happen overnight across the entire aviation ecosystem.

The nirvana solution – planes equipped with 5G base stations and small 5G antennas to enable a private 5G network. These changes need to be driven by airline OEMs for the rest of the industry to accept. The majority of aviation vendors don’t have a high comfort level with telecommunications applications and this is something companies like Ericsson can help to educate.

An interesting side note we discussed, although well into the future, is using the mobile system for drone detection. With the new technologies being deployed, there are sensing capabilities that can act like radar to tell when something is nearby. Pretty cool, looking forward to a demo!

1x1 chat with Wisk

Amsterdam Drone Week with Wisk
I had to privilege of participating in a Hot Seat for Hot Shots session with Dan Dalton, Vice President, Global Partnerships, Wisk. This discussion looked at Dan’s career path to date and the current status of eVTOL technology.

From a career perspective it was great to see the level of excitement Dan shared with working in such an innovative part of the aviation world. As many organisations struggle to attract young talent to an industry that doesn’t have the most ‘green’ and progressive reputation. The eVTOL world seems to have no challenge with attracting young talent. Hopefully this can spill over to other parts of aviation in the future.

We discussed the important ‘when’ topics. When will eVTOLs fly, when will they fly autonomously and for what type of cargo – physical deliveries and/or passengers? As with all of these discussions, autonomy is still a bit in the future with passengers on board, but will likely begin with cargo deliveries. At the end of last year, Wisk worked with Airways New Zealand to trial BVLOS flight in unsegregated controlled airspace. This is a great step forward in integrating drone flight into controlled airspace and was awarded the 2023 ATM Award for the integration of drones/AAM category.

There’s a lot of excitement around the topics of eVTOL, AAM, UAM, etc. which could be seen across the panels throughout the Amsterdam Drone Week event.

Drones in Italy

I also had the opportunity to speak with ENAV during the event to learn more about the focus of their drones initiatives through TechnoSky and D-Flight, as they come from two different perspectives.

Regarding TechnoSky, we discussed their initiative for drone operations in airports or to use drones for ILS infrastructure measurement in lieu of the current cost intensive way of doing this which impacts manpower and airport operations during the time of inspection. There is also a view to the future that drones could be used for maintenance management at airports to identify topics which need to be monitored and addressed.

D-Flight is focused on drone traffic management providing services that include pilot registry, flight authorisation and traffic management. Today, drone flights are allowed outside of airport zones without air traffic control involvement. Management is conducted through the Innovative Air Mobility Coordination Center if you are flying near an airport today. These flights are communicated via NOTAMs to alert all parties who need to be aware of these flights.

Today airport officers are in charge of these authorisations and are working toward a digital solution. Once this is digitised, there will always be a human in the center and the goal is not to transfer more work to the ATCOs. D-Flight has already requested certification to become an USSP and also plans to provide CISP services. A separate USSP platform will be supported with an SDK to allow for easy integration via an API to the users.

Regarding the next step towards AAM/UAM in Italy, the company is involved in trials related to the 2025 Jubilee in Rome and the 2026 winter Olympics in Turin. In the short term, though the view is that the initial opportunity for air taxis lies more in tourism than transfer from cities to airports and vice-versa. We'll still have to wait for this capability.


The last comment about the event I would make is the need for alignment of what is UTM across the industry. At last year’s event this was also an important topic when considering some providers of UTM offer an end-to-end solution whereas others only offer a segment. There was a prediction that we would see some consolidation over the next year to bring this in line. One year on, this discussion is still taking place. I can’t imagine that in the long run this many ‘UTM’ solutions can thrive without causing customer challenges with integration. I’m still looking to see more partnerships in this space to make it easier for the buyers of these solutions to have a more consistent level of functionality. I guess we’ll all have to stay tuned!