Belgium-based Unifly is one of Europe’s leading unmanned traffic management (UTM) providers, and has been at the forefront of developing UTM systems globally. As the UTM market continues to grow, CEO Marc Kegelaers gives DRONELIFE readers his take on Unifly, the relationship to Terra Drone India and their recent announcement, and where he sees the drone market going.
DroneLife: Can you tell our readers who may not be familiar with Unifly what you do?
Marc Kegelaers: “Drones are breaking through rigid traditional barriers in the most diverse industries. According to research, the global market for UTM services is estimated to be worth USD 517 million between 2018 and 2022, with the commercial drone business representing the fastest growth opportunity. One of the main conditions for realizing this business potential is the safe integration of drone traffic with existing manned air traffic.
Unifly offers an innovative, user-friendly software platform that allows drone pilots to check if their intended drone flight can be performed without violating the applicable local and national legislation as well as NOTAM restrictions. The same platform allows authorities to manage and trace drone traffic and flight authorizations within their assigned airspace. This way we help keep the airspace safe.”
DroneLife: You recently announced an agreement with Terra Drones India. How did that come about and what are you hoping to do?
Marc Kegelaers: “Well, Terra Drone is and has been one of our principal investors. They have invested in a large network of professional drone operators. For us, it’s a natural fit to use that network of Terra Drone as our partner to approach national market.
India is potentially a large market, given the size of the country. The team at Terra Drone India have a track record within the local drone industry so they are a natural fit.”
DroneLife: India seems to be moving forward on the commercial side of drones with some regulatory advancements. How long do you think that it will be before the commercial drone market in India starts to take off?
Marc Kegelaers: “That is always a difficult question; how soon do we think a market will take off. Given the amount of attention the drone industry is getting from the authorities, this might happen very rapidly. Will it be in 2019 or 2020, who knows. For sure, by 2021 we should see many Indian drones operators.”
DroneLife: What other world markets are you involved in?
Marc Kegelaers: “We are a global company. Our home market is Europe. We have established a subsidiary in the US. I’ve worked closely with Terra Drone to approach the Eastern markets and have assigned a reseller in Africa. So, just about the entire world is our playing field.”
DroneLife: Whom do you view as direct competitors? What companies would you integrate with?
Marc Kegelaers: “Unifly positions itself as a technology provider to companies that want to become UTM service providers. So, we want to work with anyone who wants to use our technology to enter the drone services market.”
DroneLife: Looking forward, which drone sectors do you seem having the most traction?
Marc Kegelaers: “We offer an enabling technology for all types of applications. The largest are infrastructure inspections, agriculture and transportation.”
DroneLife: Who is your target client?
Marc Kegelaers: “Our focus has been to work national and local authorities who are responsible for the safety in the airspace and the people on the ground. A second tier is large drone operators that want to manage their drone fleet and operations using a modern automated system.
Air navigation service providers (ANSPs) all around the world are now confronted with the problem of integrating drone traffic with their existing air traffic management (ATM) systems. This integration is complicated further by the increased speed of adoption of drones, the rapid technological evolution and the uncertainties and complexities surrounding the regulatory framework applicable to drones. It is not necessary to implement a full-blown solution in one step. Authorities need a short-term solution that is available immediately and set up to grow alongside the developing drone ecosystem, both in functionality and in scale.
There is no dedicated airspace for drones. Since they share the same airspace as manned aviation, they cannot be looked upon in isolation. Drone traffic management must be integrated with manned aviation management. We need to bridge this gap.”
DroneLife: You recently raised quite a bit of money at the end of last year. What is that money being used for?
Marc Kegelaers: “The money will be spent in two areas: to continue to develop the product in the direction we are going, and to establish a worldwide sales and support organization. We are currently building a highly-automated traffic management system that can handle large numbers of drones flying in a challenging environment. In due time, we believe these will also be used for manned aviation and urban aerial mobility.”
DroneLife: What are the corporate goals for 2019?
Marc Kegelaers: “The corporate goals are to double the number of staff in the organization and to, at least, double the number of customers using our product.”
DroneLife: What is the most interesting thing about Unifly that most people might not know?
Marc Kegelaers: “The unique combination of competences from aviation, software development and international business experience. This provides a fertile ground for growth for our unique company.”
CORUS Workshop 3 invitation from Unifly on Vimeo.
Want to learn more? Read our recent piece about Terra Drone India here.