Drone Forum Austria

After several years, the Austrian Drone Forum was re-launched on 28 November 2022 on the initiative of the Federal Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology in cooperation with Austro Control and the Austrian Research Promotion Agency. Topics discussed included the drone regulatory framework and its implementation, drone research in Austria and the acceptance of civil drone applications.

Almost simultaneously with the publication of the European "Drone Strategy 2.0" in Brussels, stakeholders from the Austrian public administration, authorities, research and industry discussed, among other things, the question: "How will the European drone regulation be implemented in Austria? What advantages does it offer, what challenges must be overcome?".

How is the European drone regulation being implemented in Austria? What advantages does it offer, what challenges must be overcome?

In the first of three sessions, Austro Control illustrated the needs of drone operators, focused on safety promotion and the supervisory function of the Drone Competence Center, and looked ahead to activities in 2023. Following on from the requirements for drone operators, the subsequent presentation showed the path to a "specific" operating license. At the company Smart Inspection GmbH, for example, drones are used to inspect buildings or infrastructure. This requires prior operating approval of the drone within the "specific" category - an approval process whose advantages as well as disadvantages were explained. Lower Austria drone manufacturer APELEON announced its collaboration with ÖAMTC for priority freight transport and presented various use cases for its new unmanned aerial vehicle, as well as its growth potential. Schiebel was the first manufacturer in Austria to be issued the Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC) for its CAMCOPTER® S-100 unmanned helicopter, and reported on the path to achieving it, from a preliminary study to the initial application and issuance of the certificate by Austro Control.

The telecommunications authority presented the topic of frequency use from the point of view of the telecommunications authority. It informed the audience about licensing requirements, specifics of drone defense and the technology "FLARM" as well as their areas of application. Drones for mission support for blue-light organizations such as the fire department, the Red Cross or water rescue are on the one hand, as proven by studies, strongly accepted by the population, as well as on the other hand a great support in numerous applications. Operational experience and collaboration with industry and research highlighted the future importance of these applications.

Not only knowing which drones are allowed to fly, but also where these drones can be used was the topic of Frequentis' contribution on geozones and digitalization. The EUROCAE standard ED-269, which addresses the goal of making information available to end-users and providing minimum operational performance standards for geofencing, was presented pictorially. The company Dimetor demonstrated the importance of connectivity for beyond line-of-sight, or BVLOS, flights. Dimetor also showcased the interconnection of telecom and aeronautical applications for safe and efficient drone applications with many application examples.

What innovations can Austria's drone research use to solve international issues of the future?

In the afternoon, two panels discussed Austria's innovations in drone research to solve international future issues and the necessary acceptance for drones in the population. The impulse presentation of the FFG about funding opportunities for UAS within national programs was followed by an exciting panel with research institutions and universities of applied sciences.

With AIRlabs Austria, Austria has an R&D infrastructure at its disposal for drone flights within various test scenarios and the test area Steinalpl. This infrastructure is, as was emphasized, "equally available to all stakeholders in Austria" and, due to its conditions, offers great advantages but also some disadvantages compared to other international test areas. The effectiveness of test environments relates to a large extent to the testing purposes, so a discussion was held about currently prevailing barriers and possible solutions.

"Where and why do barriers to innovation arise and how can they be addressed?" The panel explored this question, looking at FFG funding opportunities, collaborations and pioneering positions in Austria's drone research. In the area of all-weather capability, the Austrian Institute of Aeronautical Icing Science is researching the behavior of drones in snow, rain and ice. This knowledge is indispensable for future applications in climate, nature and species protection or in blue-light organizations. FH Kärnten is researching such supporting use cases, for example in agriculture or in the field of environmental monitoring, in order to achieve the greatest possible impact for the population. Drone swarms are another exciting area of research being addressed within Lakeside Labs. The largest indoor drone hall in Klagenfurt is available for testing drone swarms and their communication via 5G networks.

How do we achieve the necessary acceptance for drones among the Austrian population?

During the Drone Forum Austria and the third session of the event, the BMK study GARDA - Social Acceptance & Relevance of Civilian Drone Applications in Austria, was officially presented for the first time by the Austrian Association for Drones (AAD). The research questions were related to the areas of use of particularly beneficial applications, challenges of inner-city and rural mobility as well as potentials for research, technology and innovation. The study derives 15 key conclusions that, for example, the social, societal added value of a drone application massively determines its acceptance among the population, noise and privacy protection are seen as problematic, and the need for information is very pronounced - government information work is therefore very welcome.

After the study presentation, representatives of the AAD, Austro Control, Bundesforste, FACC, Frequentis and the Post discussed the efficient and accepted use of drones. In the field of application for blue light organizations, FACC is already in cooperation with the hospital in Ried im Innkreis and would like to see more applications of organ transports by drone for Vienna in the future as well - this can save lives with a flight time of only 10 min from the airport to the AKH. The Post talked about tests with heavy-duty drones to reduce the use of environmentally harmful trucks. However, the efficiency of these applications still depends on the implementation of the regulatory framework, as these transports would take place in the approach path of an airport, where drone flights are prohibited. Panelists agreed that more information about drone flights needs to be made available to increase acceptance. Similar to the Flightradar24.com information service, software about currently flying drones could reduce skepticism about airborne aircraft. Among other things, the possibility of air corridors specifically used for drones was also discussed.