Helitech have published a Q&A with speaker Jos Stevens, Senior Scientist, National Aerospace Laboratory ahead of the Business and Strategy Conference at Amsterdam on Tuesday 14th October
1. The agenda tells us that your presentation will address whether UAVs are a threat to the rotorcraft sector or an opportunity. As you only have a short time frame on Tuesday 14th October, please feel free to use this platform to address areas that you would like to have included but will be unable.
The rotorcraft RPAS technology and related sensor suites (in small size and low weight) have now reached a level of maturity which can provide real added value to e.g. coastguard operations, notably through quicker deployment and the use of smaller aircraft. As currently seen, RPAS will not replace all manned rotorcraft applications, but will replace some applications and also add (new) applications to the current utilisation.
2. Without giving too much away, can you explain what the AIRICA project is and what delegates to the conference will come away with?
The AIRICA project will demonstrate the feasibility of using an RPAS for coastguard activities in non-segregated airspace. The presentation will address the preparatory activities for the demonstration flight, which include integration of the Detect & Avoid System in the RPAS, the planned interaction with the Air Navigation Service Provider, and the Simultaneous Non-Interfering (SNI) operational procedures to be used at the airport. The Detect & Avoid System is based on the use of transponder technology. Challenges with respect to the integration and technology used will be addressed.
3. From your experience with this project what is the most important issue when it comes to integrating civil RPAS into European airspace?
For the integration into non-segregated airspace and operation Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS), it is obligatory that RPAS’s are equipped with Detect and Avoid (D&A) systems. Detecting other traffic is only one aspect, but then avoiding it in a safe way is essential. As part of the AIRICA project, D&A equipment will be integrated based on experience from earlier projects, where a range of D&A functions have been developed, implemented, tested and demonstrated. Demonstration of the technology is the first step, the second will be the certification of the D&A system. In addition, the certification of the RPAS itself is a main aspect for flight approval by the authorities.
4. Which sector within the rotorcraft industry do you believe will benefit the most from UAVs and why?
First of all, it should be noted that the current official (ICAO) terminology for these new systems is Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS). This is the ICAO defined subset of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), which may be flying autonomously. ICAO is not happy with autonomous flight for civil applications (“who is responsible for an autonomous aircraft?”). So, for civil use the authorities are not ready (yet) for autonomous flight (=UAS) and thus RPAS should be used in the civil sector.
Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems mainly will be complementary to the current manned rotorcraft and their missions. A limited number of tasks can potentially be taken over by RPAS’s, like pipeline monitoring, border control and environmental purposes. An already well known application in (especially) Japan is crop spraying for which already many RPAS in the 100 kg MTOW class are being used. New opportunities will come up, like windmill inspections, which are less obvious for manned rotorcraft inspection. So, in summary, especially the missions/tasks that involve observations from the air will increasingly be performed by RPAS. Main issues currently limiting the advancement of RPAS in that mission segment are: lack of regulation, lack of qualified/certified RPAS and maturity of systems, fear from stakeholders to invest, and still relatively high cost of operation (also due to lack of regulation and a reserved attitude by the authorities). It should be noted that the overall investment in actual aircraft systems and the maintenance cost, obviously depending on class/size, is substantial lower than those for manned rotorcraft.
5. How is Europe fairing when it comes to the development of UAV technology compared to the rest of the world?
Considering rotorcraft RPAS, Europe is doing rather well with respect to the development of RPAS technology. For instance, the market leader for Remotely Piloted Rotorcraft in the 200 kg MTOW class is an Austrian based company (Schiebel). Obviously, many fixed wing developments are being led by Israel and the United States of America, mainly due to the demand from the military and the budgets spent in that sector.
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