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The drone sector has grown considerably over the past few years, requiring regulations to limit its effects on the environment and ensure safety. The UAS (unmanned aerial system) or manned eVTOL (electric vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft could be valuable in environmental transition. This type of technology is especially useful to capture data such as air quality, mapping, surveillance, imaging…

Some people even dream of flying car: this could be real with passenger-eVTOL in emergency medical services[1] ! This type of technology is mainly used to avoid traffic congestion in big cities.

The urban air mobility should nevertheless be regulated. Two of the most important European regulations on UAS are:

  • the Commission implementing regulation (EU) 2019/947 of 24 May 2019 on the rules and procedures for the operation of unmanned aircraft[2]
  • the Commission delegated regulation (EU) 2019/945 of 12 March 2019 on unmanned aircraft systems and on third-country operators of unmanned aircraft systems[3].

These regulations are written on a risk-based approach, and while they define many of the UAS’s technical characteristics for safety, they do not contain indications or objectives on sustainability of UAS or VTOL.

After the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy (SSMS)[4], the European Commission announced the preparation “A drone strategy 2.0 for a smart and sustainable unmanned aircraft eco-system in Europe”. This strategy has appeared with the Communication from the Commission of 29th November 2022.[5] With this communication, the European Commission asserts its ambition to achieve the twin transition (green transition and digital transition) and recognizes that the UAS and VTOL sectors could help it succeed in finding solutions. For example, the seventh flagship action of this communication is creating “an online platform to support a sustainable IAM [Innovative Air Mobility] implementation by authorities, communities, municipalities, industry and stakeholders”, as well as developing circular economy in the drone field: “In line with the Circular Economy Action Plan adopted by the Commission and the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, the drone sector should move towards Circular Economy models covering notably the production of the aircraft, batteries and other electronic components to ensure their recycling and ensure that scope 2 and scope 3 emissions are reduced to a minimum.”

Fact, most of UAS and VTOL are electrics, therefore, their environmental impact comes from their manufacture, or whether the electricity they use is carbon-based. For example, “In Germany, which has the highest carbon intensity level of the four studied geographies of 553 g CO2eq/ kWh, the small UAS generates 74.4 g CO2eq per package[5,5kg]-kilometer travelled. Conversely, in Norway, with a carbon intensity of 41 g CO2eq/kWh, due to the abundance of low-carbon energy sources, the UAS’ emissions are significantly lower at 5.52 g CO2eq per package[5,5kg]-kilometer travelled (87% lower than Germany).”1 But eVTOL is no match to ground-based alternative like electric car : the take-off is very power-hungry, so eVTOL could be useful for only few specific purposes, such as medical emergencies, or UAS could be used to transport light cargo. Drone and VTOL ground infrastructures must also be considered, like vertiports or heat management of infrastructures.

 

Thus, humankind will have to wait a little longer for environmentally friendly flying cars.

 

[1] Guidebook for Urban Air Mobiltity Integration, AiRMOUR Deliverable 6.4, 28 nov. 2023

[2] Commission implementing regulation (EU) 2019/947 of 24.05.2019 on the rules and procedures for the operation of unmanned aircraft

[3] Commission delegated regulation (EU) 2019/945 of 12.03.2019 on unmanned aircraft systems and on third-country operators of unmanned aircraft systems

[4] Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, COM(2020)789 of 9.12.2020, Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy – putting European transport

[5] Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European economic and social committee and the committee of regions, COM(2022) 652 final, 29.11.2022

A propos de Louis CHABBERT