These include France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Belgium is lagging far behind in terms of legislation, so that developing commercial activities using drones in Belgium is currently still virtually impossible. The professional association BeUAS, which stands for Belgian Unmanned Aircraft System Association, has 75 member companies and seeks to defend the interests of the unmanned civil aviation sector both in Belgium and beyond. Aviabel News interviewed its President Michael Maes and its Vice-
President Jürgen Verstaen.
The venue for the interview was the Watersportbaan rowing race course in Ghent. As it turned out, this is a symbolic location. Michael Maes: “This is the exact place where the first drone flight in Belgium took place in 2008.
The event itself was hanging by a thread for a long time, and even at the last minute it was almost not allowed. It was more than a year before the promoter, Peter Cosyn, was given permission to organise the flight. This was no coincidence: At that time there was no adequate legislation, and six years later it still does not exist. The only real change that has been made since then
is that the fire brigade no longer necessarily has to attend every drone flight.Nevertheless, the administrative red tape around obtaining approval is still huge.”
How is it that Belgian legislation is lagging behind?
Michael Maes: There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, many people still see drones as toys. This is despite the fact that they can be used in many economic sectors. I make the comparison with mobile phones: today these are no longer seen as a fashion accessory, but more as a necessary tool. For many businesses drones could offer added value.
Jürgen Verstaen: In addition, many of the public officials involved are clearly lacking in knowledge about the applications for which drones can be used. They simply do not see their importance or the added value that they offer, and that is also why they are in no hurry to make changes to the legislation.
What exactly does the legislation in Belgium say at present?
Michael Maes: It is very simple: you can use drones for test flights and for scientific purposes, but not in the context of commercial activities. This is despite the fact that there are 330 approved operators in France and more than 2,000 in Germany. We are therefore a long way behind, and our businesses are missing out on opportunities.
You say that you can see many opportunities for businesses to use drones. Can you give a few examples?
Building and land surveyors, architects, construction companies and others are all asking to deploy drones. You should not forget that using a drone can be much safer than a helicopter. Suppose a forest fire breaks out. If you want to know the full extent of the situation, you can send a helicopter with two crew. Or you can send a drone. If you send a drone, there is no risk of injuries caused by the aircraft crashing. In the case of a helicopter, that risk does exist. Drones can also save costs, because they can be used quickly and efficiently. Of course safety is a two-way street. It is possible for a drone to injure someone if it crashes in a public place. Drones can also be used by people for criminal purposes, for example to carry out an
Michael Maes: We are aware of this. That is why we are calling for a concrete framework allowing drones to be used in safe and beneficial ways. Of course the possibility of their use for harmful purposes cannot be excluded, and we have to do everything we can to prevent it. In the Netherlands, for example, ‘drone hunters’ are in use.
The problem is that the Government in Belgium pays little or no attention to this issue. We are waiting for an initiative, but
so far nothing has been done. Are there other areas that still require further consideration?
Jürgen Verstaen: Certainly. Privacy is a hot item, and the use of radio frequencies is also important. There is a need to
extend the frequencies available, otherwise it will be virtually impossible to collect the data that is stored in drones.
Is there any movement at the European level? Jürgen Verstaen: Yes and no. We have the support of European Commissioner Siim Callas, who is willing to put his weight behind European regulations in this area. Even when a European framework is in place, however, all the individual member states will still have to pass legislation. That is currently the sticking point in Belgium.
What is the situation with insurance in relation to drones?
Michael Maes: To fly a drone, you must have insurance which must be compliant with the European regulations. Aviabel scores very highly for this, and has always been a pioneer in insuring drones. Many drone users still think that their family policy or Commercial Liability insurance covers the risks of a drone, but of course that is not the case. Through the BeUAS we are therefore trying to persuade everyone of the value of having a good policy. We are also launching a collective policy together with Aviabel.
Thank you for talking to us.
Aviabel offers insurance solutions for drones:
In today’s world with its need for innovation, one surefire way for a company to move faster and more efficiently than its competitors is to use technology. For the aviation industry, UAVs obviously represent one such opportunity. As a specialized aviation insurance company, we are aiming to be one of the first players to offer support by providing appropriate insurance coverage, first in Belgium and then throughout Europe.
Aviabel has been monitoring the evolution of drone technology for the past three years and is looking to offer appropriate coverage to this growing industry. We fully believe that UAVs already represent a technological tipping point in several types of
operations, such as the ones mentioned by Michael Maes and Jürgen Verstaen (the Chairman and Vicechairman of BeUAS respectively). We expect this development to continue.Aviabel is currently working on appropriate, regulatory-compliant products. Through direct contacts with specialized, active stakeholders in the field of UAVs, we have acquired valuable knowledge
and are gaining key insights into this technically challenging and fast-moving environment by listening to our customers.
Your contact person for UAV coverage with Aviabel is Nelson Charlier
T: +32 (0)2 349 12 89