Koen DE VOS, the new Secretary General of GUTMA

We are delighted to welcome Koen DE VOS as the new Secretary General of GUTMA. By way of introduction, we talked to Koen to gain some insights into his time at the European Commission and to find out why he decided to join GUTMA.

  • What attracted you to join GUTMA as Secretary General?

Having spent the majority of my career in public administration, I felt like it was time for a change of role and to become a more active actor in the private market. My time at the European Commission (EC) has given me a deep appreciation of the expertise that exists in the aviation industry and I think that GUTMA, in particular, has been a constructive force.

I want to take an active role in establishing the UTM / U-Space system and use of drones in a safe, secure, green manner. I have always been attracted to new technologies, new competencies and new ways of thinking, and challenging disruption is a passion, so this role will give me the chance to assume a different but active position to enable change.

It is also really important to me to work with driven and competent people. The European Commission was an interesting environment to work in and is probably the best administration in the world. I am now taking the next step to drive initiatives that help to build the drone and U-Space/UTM business.

I believe that GUTMA should become the organisation that will enable the future of aviation. We need the U-Space/UTM to make more automated and longer distance operations possible and I think that, eventually, this system will support all operations, manned and unmanned.

  • You have had a long and varied career at the European Commission, can you please share with us some of the highlights since joining in 1993 and talk a bit about your transition into the aviation side?

When I joined, the European Union (EU) was just 12 members and Spain and Portugal were the newest members. The Union then expanded to include Austria, Sweden and Finland, taking it to 15 members in 1995 but the biggest change was the expansion to include the central European countries in 2004. 

The change of dynamics within the EU, as well as the empowerment of the European Parliament which also impacted the role of the Commission, meant that we had to form novel partnerships with the member states and the Parliament alike. And the new institutional balance confirmed the merits of qualified majority voting. A single member state cannot stall the legislative process, yet it is important to produce the best possible outcome for Europe and preserve sufficient votes to maintain the qualified majority!

I started my career in the Social Affairs Department of the Commission. After a few years of social aids in the coal and steel industries, I switched to “European Social Dialogue” where I worked with the social partners, the employer’s associations and the trade unions, to deliver concrete social agreements. I was responsible for the transport sectors (road, rail, maritime, inland navigation and… aviation). 

Social dialogue taught me the complexity of issues. Take for instance flying time for pilots. This is not only a social issue, but also directly impacts operations, safety and competitiveness. My spell in social dialogue also bolstered my greatest respect for European associations, which are under fierce pressure of their members to deliver and yet are facing so many political and institutional constraints. 

I am still very proud of the first sectoral collective agreements on working time that social partners have concluded. These agreements are still the applicable working arrangements for mobile personnel in the maritime and aviation sectors.

It was a logical step for me to move from European social dialogue to the Transport Department where I began working on the social aspects of ‘Single European Sky’, the European initiative to build a more harmonized air traffic management system. This developed my interest in the industry and led to working on other aviation-related initiatives, like aircraft noise around airports and later drones.

  • In your role as Senior Drone Expert at the EC, what are some of the most significant industry developments that you have seen over the last 6 years?

One of the most significant and exciting developments has been the rise of digital and green technologies. There is a growing awareness that we stand before a digital revolution that will change of daily lives – how we move, how we eat, the way we receive medical services – and I think drones form a very important part of this new world, especially if drones are able to demonstrate their valuable potential.

There is also an ‘enlargement’ of aviation. Today, everybody can become an aviator; drones can fly everywhere and the drive towards automation and doing things differently is presenting a lot of opportunity for many people outside of the traditional world of aviation. 

GUTMA has an important role in integrating the various stakes and helping to build the innovative UTM system that will enable automated drone operations over longer distances in all safety.

  • What do you consider to be the most important aspect of UTM currently?

I think the fact that drones can fly everywhere is hugely important. Operations are not restricted from airport to airport as with traditional aircraft. Drones have the potential to fly from garden to garden, rooftop to rooftop, warehouse to warehouse – and they can fly at a very low level. This is a gamechanger.

So we must get it right. New technology always raises suspicion, just like trains and cars did in the past. And this suspicion is justified. No one wants to have drones invading their privacy or colliding over high streets.

So we need to make sure that we don’t focus exclusively on technological possibilities, but also on acceptance by the general public. It is vital that we act as responsible organisations.

  • What will be your priority in your role as Secretary General for GUTMA?

I would like to see GUTMA work on its role as an integrator of stakeholders and information. As an integrator, GUTMA is uniquely placed to contribute to the implementation of the regulatory frameworks that various regions are putting in place. 

We have to work with current aviation organisations and create opportunities for new drone and UTM companies. We need to be supporting new technology and new business models and we should be encouraging disruption in the sector to provide space for innovation. 

I also think it’s important for us to keep on top of the bigger picture and provide GUTMA members with the best information that helps focus on real opportunities to propel their operations. This includes ensuring that GUTMA can speak as an authoritative source at a global level, based on facts, using the best possible information.

  • What do you predict will happen in the UTM, and the wider unmanned aviation industry, over the next 5 years?

Over the next 5 years, I think we will see a proliferation in the use of drones by both public authorities and private companies. The establishment of U-Space / UTM systems will enable more automated flights, which will reduce costs and make drone operations even more attractive for myriad applications.

The first applications may be emergency response, medical interventions, infrastructure monitoring etc. There are endless opportunities in many industries. If these drone services add value to local communities and work on operational procedures to avoid/mitigate privacy and noise issues.

As the general public become more acquainted with drones we need to keep an eye on public acceptance. That will determine the speed of the introduction of new technologies.

I think that GUTMA could play a pivotal role in setting and disseminating good practices which will, in turn, foster social acceptance and support the growth of the industry.