Laying the Foundation for Malta’s Drone Innovation Ecosystem with Interactive Learning

The Global Drone Market is set to grow by $21B during the five year period 2021-2025, progressing at a CAGR of 14.42% (BusinessWire, 2022).  Some of the main drivers for this market are innovation in drone applications, the rise in Seed and Series A funding for drone manufacturers, a ten-fold reduction in lithium-ion battery cell costs in a ten year period, and the doubling of cell energy density in the same timeframe (Bloomberg NEF, 2022).

Apart from the use of drones in photography, videography and leisure activities, drones can also be used for industrial purposes, imagery, mapping, precision agriculture, and inspection and monitoring settings, among others.  Moreover, in recent years through the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the EU has turned its focus towards Urban Air Mobility – defined as an air transportation system for passengers and cargo in and around urban environments.  The general understanding is that these may be deployed in Europe within three to five years, offering the potential for greener and faster mobility solutions.

A considerable number of startups are emerging across the whole value chain.  More than 200 electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) designs and concepts are currently under development, and some of these unmanned aircraft systems (the formal word for drones), are in advanced certification stages.  Thus, a considerable number of stakeholders have a role to play in this emerging industry (EASA, 2021), including but not limited to

  • The industry itself: manufacturers, operators and drone pilots, maintenance providers, airport operators, service providers, vertiports (‘drone’ airports), communication providers and suppliers
  • Potential users: travellers, high wealth individuals, emergency services and companies across a plethora of industries
  • Governments, public institutions & regulators: EU institutions and bodies, EASA, Air traffic service providers, national authorities, military and police institutions
  • Other Third Parties: Residential communities, aerospace professionals, academia, innovators and entrepreneurs, associations, unions, clubs, lobbies, environmental groups and the extended industry, such as insurance providers and commercial entities looking at the space.

It is no wonder, therefore, that as part of a holistic vision to develop Malta’s aerospace industry, Malta Enterprise has planted the seed for developing a Drone Innovation Ecosystem to position the island as a location where innovation in the area can be nurtured and grown.  Malta can attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the area, as well as encourage homegrown investment and innovation.  Paramount to fostering this emerging industry, however, is a strong and solid human resource capital.

For most people, both within and outside of the aerospace industry, drones ‘learning’ is understood to be drone pilot training.  This is probably because of recent regulatory developments in the EASA region requiring drone pilots to be trained according to set requirements which came into force at the beginning of 2021.  The use of the word ‘learning’ in lieu of ‘training’ here is not sporadic.  I have come to embrace the notion that the aerospace industry should look at developing human knowledge, skills and competences using a continuous approach which is consonant with Web 3.0 technologies, where the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds will become ever more blurred.  In other words, it will not matter whether you are on the job, in a metaverse environment, in a classroom, or at home consuming learning content – you are learning continuously.  In contrast, the word training represents a single or sequence of learning events.

Gaining knowledge, skills and competences within the drones industry will be required of every team member of all the stakeholders above.  Drone pilots are just a tiny fraction of that community.  As a start, future and existing employees within these entities need to develop an understanding of the principle elements of drone operations regulation in the EASA Framework, including navigating across different operating categories.  They should be able to communicate fluently with their peers, and with other entities using a common language.  Not only in Malta, but across the whole EASA region.

This is why we partnered with Dogtooth to design and develop one of our first launch courses, A Regulation Review for Drone Operations.  This course outlines the boundaries of the regulation for the Open, Specific and Certified Categories in a simple way using interactive games and easy to understand, high quality, onscreen instructor footage.  It also has a course access window of 90 days, so learners can conduct the course on the RAVEN portal at their own pace.  Moreover, learners can earn RAVEN Experience Points (RXPs), which they will be able to redeem for more digital content in the future.  Purchasing the course will also give them access to a social group, where they will be able to share knowledge and experiences with peers.

We envisage that this course will not only address emerging skill gaps in this exciting industry, but also position RAVEN as a leading innovator in the delivery of aerospace digital learning.

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