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The popularity of drones does create busy airspace and the ILT is concerned about this.

The integration of drones into Dutch airspace has achieved unprecedented growth in recent years. Martijn de Goede, Coordinating/Specialist Inspector at the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT), has conducted intensive research. He highlights the impressive technological advances the drone industry has made over the past decade, with consumers able to purchase drones that deliver beautiful images for several hundred euros.

However, the rising popularity of drones poses significant challenges to airspace safety. According to De Goede, the biggest problem is the lack of knowledge of the regulations among drone users, mainly private individuals. “Many people are not sufficiently aware of the dangers. The danger is not immediately noticeable to the drone pilot himself, as he is safely on the ground. But a drone that unexpectedly becomes uncontrollable and flies into something can have serious consequences if, for example, it falls on someone,” Martijn explains.

“In the past, you didn't have many places where you could expect aviation. Now every paving stone is an airport.”

The situation is further complicated by the fact that drones also fly at heights and routes that are prohibited to them, often to the dismay of manned aviation. This leads to potential conflicts with hot air balloons, gliders and paratroopers, which cannot simply evade. The ILT is currently investigating, together with experts and stakeholders, how to improve the provision of information to drone users, a challenge given the fragmented nature of the drone pilot community.

In addition to the challenges with drones, the Dutch aviation sector also faces other important safety issues. More about these developments can be found in the State of Aviation 2023. For example, the availability of qualified personnel is a persistent problem. Dutch aviation meets strict international requirements, but safety is potentially under pressure due to persistent staff shortages since the corona crisis, the report states. These shortages have led to higher workloads and can encourage human error, which can further undermine safety.

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permanent staff shortages

According to a 2011 report by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a global shortage of 8.000 pilots, 2.000 air traffic controllers and 18.000 maintenance technicians is expected by 2030, a forecast that is likely to materialize given current trends. The Dutch aviation industry is experiencing great competition in the labor market, especially from the energy sector, due to the energy transition. Aging population also plays a role in this, and raising the retirement age is seen as a possible solution to combat the shortage.

The shortage is felt at all levels of the sector, from pilots and air traffic controllers to maintenance technicians and ground staff. This situation is largely due to a combination of factors: an increasing number of retirements, a general shift in the labor market with workers opting for sectors with more favorable employment conditions, and a slow return of staff who left the sector during the pandemic.

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The consequences of these staff shortages are multifaceted. A direct consequence is the increased workload for existing staff. High workload can lead to fatigue and a decrease in alertness, which increases the risk of human error. This situation endangers the safety culture within aviation, as it increases the likelihood that safety procedures are not fully adhered to.

In practice, aviation companies are forced to make operational choices that may affect safety. Examples of this include increasing maximum working hours and deploying less experienced staff in critical positions. Delaying maintenance and training can also occur, potentially leading to reduced operational performance and a higher risk of incidents.

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The staff shortage also has a direct impact on service provision. For example, the staff shortage in the summer of 2022 led to major delays and chaos at European airports. Airlines and airports struggle to find the balance between maintaining service quality and ensuring safety.

To turn the tide and cope with the impending staff shortage, various strategies are being considered. Raising the retirement age for certain positions, such as pilots and air traffic controllers, is one of the measures that have already been taken. Furthermore, we are looking at attracting personnel from abroad, especially from other EU member states, to fill the shortages. This is made possible by the harmonization of licensing requirements within the EU.

These personnel shortages and the measures to address them are crucial for the future stability and safety of aviation in the Netherlands. It is essential that the sector not only focuses on meeting current needs, but also proactively plans for the longer term to ensure aviation continuity and safety.

The ILT is further developing into the Aviation Authority in the Netherlands and focuses on the safety and sustainability of aviation. In this State of aviation As supervisors, they send out signals about what they see in practice in their work.

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