Weekly Review #247 - Drone operations - where is the money?

Picture of Vincent Lambercy
Posted by Vincent Lambercy

The drone ecosystem is maturing and progressing. In Europe, the first U-Spaces should be created soon. U-Space Service Providers (USSPs) are engaged in a race and getting close to the finish line, and many countries have also designated their Common Information Service Provider (CISP). Everything should be ready later this year… but then what?

Many case studies have been done, and use cases have been identified. But to be honest, the one-million-dollar question remains: where is the money? All drone use cases aimed at saving lives, like flying defibrillators or swimming rings, clearly require state funding. And while they are really noble, they are not financially sustainable. Last-mile delivery is not there yet and will not be possible in lots of cases. Not everyone has a garden! And don't get me started on noise nuisances, bad weather, and so on.

Transport of medical samples between hospitals and laboratories? Yes. But can you imagine this use case supporting the funding of a CISP and one or more USSPs? Hobby pilots flying their drones for fun? They are likely the most numerous but also the least funded. Honestly, I don't see yet which use case will be widespread and funded enough to support all those costs, except maybe for air taxis. But we are not there yet. It is one thing to fly parcels around, but flying with passengers on board is a totally different game. And there, costs for services could actually become negligible compared to the costs of certification and operation.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that this will not happen, but at the present moment, I don't see where the money is. You can read more about this in our latest article, which also touches on the responsibilities of cities and municipalities.


ANSP news

  • ENAIRE managed over 214,000 flights in May, 9.3% more than in 2023, a record year- ENAIRE managed over 214,000 flights in May, 9.3% more than in 2023, a record year ENAIRE, Spain's air navigation service provider, managed over 214,000 flights (214,465) in May, 9.3% more than in the same month in 2023, a record year. International flights in May (125,944) rose by 11.2%, overflights (47,452), which do not land at or depart from a Spanish airport, by 6.9%, and domestic flights (41,069) by 6.4%. This growth in air traffic in Spain in May exceeded the European average, which was 6.5%, by 2.8 percentage points.
  • Head of UkSATSE takes part in the 61st Session of the EUROCONTROL Provisional Council and Permanent Commission- The 61st Session of the EUROCONTROL Provisional Council (PC) and Permanent Commission (SN) was held on 13 June 2024, where Ukraine was represented by Andrii Yarmak, Director of UkSATSE, and Kostiantyn Shvets, Representative of Ukraine to EUROCONTROL. The participants of the Session were informed, among other things, about the functioning of the European ATM Voluntary Solidarity Fund in support of Ukraine during 2023 and the replenishment of the Fund in 2024. Raul Medina Caballero, Director General of EUROCONTROL, also stressed the need to extend the Fund for the next year. Andrii YARMAK, on behalf of Ukraine, expressed his sincere gratitude to the Agency and EUROCONTROL Member States for their valuable assistance and support during more than two years of war, and in particular for the creation and replenishment of the Fund in 2023-2024, which allowed the preservation of the Ukrainian air navigation system. Attention was also drawn to the vital need to continue the functioning of the Fund beyond 2024 in view of the continuing armed aggression of the russian federation.
  • Air traffic returns to pre-pandemic levels for the first time - NATS- School half term holidays and the Champions League final contributed to the last week in May being the busiest for UK air traffic since before the pandemic.
  • Striving for Zero Serious Close Calls on the Nation’s Runways During One of the Busiest Summers in Years- As part of the comprehensive effort to end serious close calls, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is working with airports across the nation to reduce the risk of vehicle and pedestrian deviations on the airfield as travel picks up this summer. Warm weather means more flights, as well as increased runway construction and maintenance at commercial and general aviation airports. This raises the risk of unauthorized vehicles and pedestrians entering the runways and creating the potential for vehicle/pedestrian deviations.
  • Test phase for environmentally friendly TEDGO procedures at Stuttgart Airport in Germany comes to an end - From 13 June 2024, DFS will use the short TEDGO departure procedures at Stuttgart Airport in regular operations for landing direction east.

Airport news

  • Stansted, Manchester and Luton airports detail future growth plans - British Aviation Group- Beginning in 2026, Stansted Airport will begin construction work for an expansion of its facilities. The 16,000m2 terminal extension will extend the back of the existing terminal by three bays utilizing spare capacity on the airport’s existing runway. Manchester Airport’s £1.3bn transformation programme is already well underway with the completion of phase one. This included the opening of a new pier, a new multi-storey car park and conducting the first phase of airfield works. Luton Airport is also planning an expansion of its facilities but these are at a much earlier stage.
  • Gatwick Airport details constraints of constructing recently opened rapid exit taxiway - Project leads at Gatwick Airport have unveiled the constraints of constructing its new recently opened rapid exit taxiway, Echo Romeo. The new infrastructure opened in March and 56% of all arrivals used it in the first four days of operation. Previously, incoming planes would often miss the first taxiway to exit the runway, which led to delays along the runway as the aircraft would have to travel to the next exit.

Market news

  • Brazil opts for Thales radar to protect against aerial threats - Unmanned airspace- Brazil’s Department of Airspace Control, through the Airspace Control System Implementation Commission, has signed a contract for the acquisition of Ground Master Multi-Mission “all-in-one” radars. The Ground Master 200 Multi-Mission radar family covers aerial threats, from low mini-drones to faster, more agile targets for ground-based air defence operations up to mid-range air defence.
  • Azerbaijan, Aireon Sign Agreement to Study Use of Air Traffic Flow Management - Azeraeronavigation (AZANS) signed a collaboration agreement with Aireon to study the use of enhanced air traffic flow management technologies in the region. Aireon, working in collaboration with AZANS and Metron Aviation, will provide its AireonFLOW ATFM data stream for integration into Metron Aviation’s Horizon System in Azerbaijan.

Context information

  • 100 Years Air Traffic Control – IFATCA- On the occasion of 100 Years of Air Traffic Control in 2022, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations, IFATCA, commissioned a book that examines how air traffic control started and changed over the past century. Air traffic control was not invented. It evolved out of necessity, following hindsight-realisations that aviation could be made safer and more efficient. In many cases, the trigger was one or more accidents that created a need to improve.
  • EUROCONTROL’s Performance Review Report (PRR) for 2023 is released - After the bad performance in 2022, punctuality levels in Europe decreased further in 2023, reaching the worst level on record over the past 20 years. Even though Air Navigation Services were not the main cause for the delays, the high Air Traffic Flow Management delays contributed to the poor punctuality in Europe. In 2023, en-route ATFM delays increased to reach a total of 18.1 million minutes and an average en-route ATFM delay of 1.8 min per flight (the second highest value over the past 20 years).

Research and innovation

  • SafeTeam's Approach to Managing Air Traffic Complexity - Datascience.aero- The introduction of AI-based tools into ATC systems is set to significantly transform human-system interactions. Recognizing this, the SafeTeam project was set out to develop a comprehensive framework to address Human Factors and improve human-machine collaboration. The goal of the SafeTeam framework is to ensure that human operators can seamlessly coordinate with these advanced digital assistants, addressing essential challenges and constraints at an early stage of the design cycle.
  • Maintaining Air Traffic Efficiency When GPS Signals Degrade- Pilots flying in U.S. airspace use GPS signals for everything from navigating to keeping a safe distance from other aircraft. So, when those signals are degraded, aviation authorities need to know, and fast. A MITRE-developed prototype is designed to provide that awareness … and more.

Reports and data

  • Air traffic management cost-effectiveness (ACE) benchmarking report (May 2023 edition) - EUROCONTROL- This report is the 22nd in a series of annual reports based on mandatory information disclosure provided by 38 Air Navigation Services Providers (ANSPs) to the EUROCONTROL Performance Review Commission (PRC). This report analyses ANSPs’ cost-effectiveness performance in a context marked by the traffic recovery following the shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also presents a new analysis describing the regulatory, institutional, and corporate governance setups in which ANSPs operate.
  • More than 2.1 million passengers at Brussels Airport in May Nearly 60,000 tons of cargo shipped- In May, more than 2.1 million passengers passed through Brussels Airport, an increase of 1.5% compared with May 2023. Total cargo volume rose by 0.4% to almost 60,000 tons.
  • Fraport Traffic Figures – May 2024: Increase in Passenger Numbers and Cargo Volumes- Frankfurt Airport welcomed 5.5 million passengers – Increase of 6.9 percent year-on-year – Passenger growth of 6.3 percent achieved across Fraport Group
  • Number of passengers through Oman's airports reaches nearly 5 million by end of April 2024- The number of passengers travelling through the Sultanate of Oman’s airports by the end of April 2024 increased by 16.4 percent to reach 4,901,796 passengers on board 36,042 flights, compared to 4,209,846 passengers on board 32,071 flights by the end of April 2023. Preliminary statistics issued by the National Center for Statistics and Information showed that the number of passengers traveling through Muscat International Airport by the end of April 2024 reached about 4,430,119 , an increase of 16.8 percent. They travelled on 32,520 flights, an increase in the number of flights of 12.4 percent.
  • Airservices Australia releases May Australian Aviation Network Overview- Airservices Australia has released its Australian Aviation Network Overview report for May 2024. Highlights include: The Australian aviation network recorded minimal growth in terms of daily average flights. The industry continues to rebalance to a more stable seasonal trend, with softening demand following the peak Easter holiday season. Overall industry on-time performance showed a notable 15% improvement over the first four months of 2024, and the cancellation rate has dropped to its long-term benchmark. This suggests that cross-industry efforts to prioritise service reliability are delivering benefits through measures such as active recruitment, streamlining procedures and strengthening responses to disruptions.
  • Avinor records new record for drone flights - Unmanned airspace- Norwegian airport operator Avinor said 2,996 drone flights were reported in Ninox Drone, Avinor’s system for managing drones, for the month of May. This is more than twice the number recorded in May 2023.
  • Zagreb Airport records historic passenger record in May 2024- Zagreb Airport reached a historic milestone last May by recording the busiest month in its history with 399.730 passengers. This corresponds to an increase of 21,3% compared to the previous year. This remarkable increase is mainly due to the 12,7% increase in the number of flights, which totaled 4.511 flights in May.
  • Continued increase in air traffic in May and drone record - The Avinor Group- There were 64,419 flight movements in May. This represents a marginal change compared to May last year, when the number was 64,480. In May, 2996 drone flights were reported in Ninox Drone, Avinor's system for managing drones.


  • Saudi Arabia has successfully conducted its first air taxi trial- Led by the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), in collaboration with the Ministry of Transport and Logistics Services, the Ministry of Hajj, the Ministry of Interior, and Front End Limited Company, the trial featured an EH216-S pilotless eVTOL aircraft. Conducted in a low-risk area with protected airspace, this initiative is set to redefine the Hajj experience by enhancing mobility, reducing congestion, and promoting sustainability.
  • Finnish transport agency considers national U-space demand and potential - Unmanned airspace- The Finnish Transport and Communication Agency (Traficom) has published a report on Urban Air Mobility as a business, which predicts increasing demand over the next 5-10 years.