The skies of the future will be filled with drones and Denmark wants to lead the way.
An EU Commission report from April predicted bright times ahead for the European drone market.
“The technology for drones is maturing and the market for civil drones is evolving fast. On some estimates in the next ten years civil drones could be worth ten percent of the aviation market. That's 15 billion euro per year,” a commission report read. “Drones manufacturing may create up to 150,000 European jobs by 2050.”
Denmark has positioned itself to be at the forefront of the drone market.
Since 2011, Odense's Hans Christian Andersen Airport has been the site of drone test flights by industry giant Boeing, and the drone test centre now aims to be the biggest of its kind in Europe.
The airport is the base of UAS Denmark, an umbrella organization for drone developers and researchers as well as private and public entities that either use drones or are interested in implementing them into their business.
UAS Denmark's project manager, Michael Larsen, said that with the drone market primed to expand rapidly, Denmark should act now to be ahead of the game.
“Air transport is becoming more and more automated, and in the long run it will become completely unmanned. They say that the fighter jets Denmark is in the process of purchasing will be the last generation to have a pilot on board,” he told Politiken.
“Drones have market potential and therefore we see the potential in a test centre that can provide both growth and jobs,” he continued.
Larsen said that Denmark is particularly well suited to function as a European test centre for drones.
“We don't have so much air traffic and we are close to the water. Therefore we can establish a very large test area that would be much more difficult in central Europe,” he said.
Jens Ringsmose, a drone expert at the University of Southern Denmark's Center for War Studies, told Politiken that there is “an enormous potential” in drones.
“The drone industry now is where the airline industry was at the beginning of World War I. We know that drones will be huge in the future,” he said.
While the potential uses of drones in Denmark could include coastal observations, deliveries and the monitoring of chemical leaks, the field's rapid growth is not without its problems.
“There are many challenges associated with them. You could suddenly have an abundance of drones in the air space and that could be dangerous if they fly into other aircraft or into each other. Another challenge is that it will become easier to monitor people,” Ringsmose said.
Europe has seen its share of headline-grabbing drone incidents, from the arrest of a man piloting a drone near the Eiffel Tower to the questionable decision to use drones at Milan Fashion Week. The European Aviation Safety Agency is currently evaluating new standards for drones at the EU level, while the Danish Board of Technology (Teknologirådet) called for a new national strategy for drones in a July report.
Current legislation bans the flying of drones in densely populated areas or near public roads. The drones can not fly higher than 100 metres and they must stay at least eight kilometres away from military bases and at least five kilometres from public airfields.
The online drone retailer droner.dk estimates that at least 3,000 drones have been purchased in Denmark and that number is likely to explode as the technology advances.
A video about the drone test centre can be viewed below: