Europe’s migrant crisis is spurring the Czech Republic to urgently purchase new weapons and modernize its existing equipment. Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky made an announcement to that effect on Monday, saying that the aim is to secure the country’s border against the inflow of migrants from the Middle East and ensure the Czech military is prepared to participate in joint NATO activities. Specific operational plans were not given, but of the procurements, “monitoring and reconnaissance systems” likely means drones. For surveillance and border patrol, they are the best value for the money solution.
In fact, in May deputy chief of the Czech armed forces General Jiri Baloun said the Czech military wants to increase its use of drones. (Currently, the military operates Israeli-built Raven UAVs.) And with Prague’s 2015 defense budget at $1.78 billion, 4.2% higher than last year, it can make that happen.
But the military isn’t the only source of demand for drones in the country. Private firms as well as state institutions in the Czech Republic have found many uses for commercial drones, which are vastly cheaper than helicopters. So far UAVs have been most often used commercially for filming advertisements and commercials, reported Czech news service CTK. But they also help check electricity pylons, uncover defects in the construction of new roads, and are used in farming (for example to see which part of a field needs more fertilization). Furthermore, CEPS (the administrator of the Czech electricity transmission system) and the National Institute for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Protection have asked for the permission to use drones commercially. Soon UAVs will also assist police and firefighters, CTK added.
According to the Czech Civil Aviation Authority (UCL), the number of registered commercial drones went from zero in 2013 to 47 last year, and 150 as of the beginning of October. (All commercial drones must register for a permit and follow strict rules; small recreational UAVs need one as well, but are allowed more flight flexibility within set boundaries.) While drone regulation is necessary, the approval process is the biggest impediment to more widespread and efficient use. A particular permit is needed for every use — meaning there can be no short-notice contingency deployments, and the pace of the UCL bureaucrats thus determines the scope of applicants’ commercial operations.
Permits are not a hindrance to military and police drones, but if the country wants to encourage commercial drone-related innovation it should streamline the UCL’s commercial approval process.