Commercial drone flights are expected to be a future market worth billions. Considering this prospect, the German air traffic control company Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS) and the largest telecoms provider in Europe, Deutsche Telekom, have established a joint venture, Droniq, to operate remote-controlled long-haul flights. DFS is the majority shareholder in this joint venture.
Droniq received Federal Cartel Office approval shortly before Easter 2019 and the company's headquarters in Frankfurt will commence work after Summer 2019. The company's gradual expansion into other European countries is planned from 2021 – especially in countries such as the Netherlands, Austria and Greece, where Deutsche Telekom has subsidiaries.
Droniq's business model is based on equipping drones with SIM cards and GPS systems. It will locate unmanned aircraft using the mobile phone network and airspace surveillance, and for the first time give owners remote control capabilities. Until now, drones have been permitted to fly only within a pilot's line of sight. However, a Deutsche Telekom representative has declared that "now long-haul flights for business customers can also be approved".
Droniq aims to establish a digital platform for all unmanned aerial operations and engage with security authorities and logistics companies seeking to deliver goods faster (eg, Amazon). However, energy companies may have the biggest business opportunity, as they may be able to reduce costs by using drones instead of helicopters to monitor their power lines and wind turbines.
Deutsche Telekom and DFS have been working on the project for more than two years. The ability to locate the drones could also improve safety, as permanent and temporary no-fly zones can be programmed into the system. In future, Droniq aims to control air taxis as well.
Drone use has received a lot of bad publicity of late. For instance, in May 2019 Frankfurt Airport was closed twice in two days due to an unmanned aircraft disrupting air traffic.
In 2018 German air traffic control registered a total of 158 air traffic disruptions due to unmanned aircraft (of which 125 were in the vicinity of airports). Today, drone flights are strictly prohibited in the vicinity of runways, hospitals, prisons, government agencies, federal roads and railway facilities in Germany.
Droniq's first steps towards demonstrating the positive and innovative potential of drone use are therefore highly anticipated.
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