September 24th, 2018:
Seeing the commercial success of other aviation drones over the last couple of years, there has been a renewed push in Europe to further develop new Lighter than Air (LTA) technology. On Monday the September 24, a first kick-off meeting was held for the European Platform for strategic co-operation of LTA initiatives, facilitated by amongst other DG RTD of the European Commission. Some of the current key developers in Europe contributed to this meeting, notably: Flying Whales, an initiative for cargo transport; Flywin, another initiative for cargo transport, but unmanned and devised to fly over oceans and seas; Hybrid-Airplane, an initiative for High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS), among other fields; and Voliris, an initiative for supplying provisions to communities in arid and challenging to reach areas.
Representing the European Commission, there was DG RTD, along with DG GROW and DG MOVE, as well as the European Agency for Aviation Safety.
Everyone helped make the day a highly rewarding one, despite the ‘pressure cooker’ kind of introduction to this new technology. The meeting covered several dimensions: one looking at inventions and their workings, but above all, it also focussed on application and commercialisation.
The workshop demonstrated that LTA platforms could offer a reliable alternative or complementary technology in addition to conventional aviation and satellite functions, considering their low CO2 emission, minimal noise functioning and modest infrastructure needs.
The potential applications for LTA technology include:
- Cargo transport and construction to remote regions
- Communication and improved monitoring and earth images (complementary to satellite images), serving also as a HAPS (High-Altitude-Pseudo-Satellite).
- Surveillance and Monitoring
- Rescue/humanitarian missions.
- Education and entertainment
At the moment, the technology is not well known at the European Level and with the institutions, and LTA is not mentioned specifically as a technology. At this workshop, it was found out that in order to upscale, both for cargo and as well as communication (HAPS) functions, co-operation on particularly safe and business efficient ground operations and safety was highly important.
Thus the Strategic Co-operation Platform on Lighter Than Air Technology will be focused upon:
- Enhancement of Visibility of LTA Technology with European and International Institutions.
- Mobilise financing and investments for solving common issues for upscaling and realisation of the necessary infrastructure; this will be attained by a more explicit integration of LTA Technology in EU funding programmes and the establishment of a European Investment Platform for the development of LTA Technology.
- Improvement of certification procedures, the safety of ground operations (including landings), maintenance, in a way that it fits within a sound commercial model. Development of common approaches, enabling better business models and attracting supply industries that would facilitate to find better business models for ground operations and could bring down ORM costs.
- Development of a certified education and training modules. At this moment there is hardly any standardised programme for education and training. In case upscaling is implemented, even for a few initiatives, then a considerably large staff volume for ORM will be a necessity. At the meeting, it was acknowledged that based on a study of the sector, that a co-operation of different initiatives of the sector could be highly beneficial in order to face common challenges and mitigate risks (as improving safety aspects of ground operations).
Following up this meeting, a second meeting with the EP is planned in February next year focusing on feasibility enhancement and financing.
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