Nigel Tomlinson is a founder and the President of the European Rotor Sports Association.
Whilst drone racing goes from strength to strength, and flashy event to flashy event over in the States, the European scene is refusing to be left in its rotor dust.
Queue European Rotor Sports Association (ERSA), a non profit organisation which has already put on an event at Wembley Stadium, attended by the $250,000 first place winner of World Drone Prix in Dubai, Luke Bannister (BanniUK). And there’s a whole lot more coming up throughout Europe.
We spoke to Nigel Tomlinson about the background of ERSA, the racing scene in Europe, and who the next BanniUK might be.
The rest of the ERSA executive committee includes VP Herve Pellarin, Executive Officer Yann Oeffner, Competitions Director Ric Vinuesa, Secretary Andreas Neubauer and FPV Pilot Representative Metall Danny.
(Ed note: You’ll see a lot of European spelling in this article. It’s only fair.)
Third Law Sports: Can you tell us a little about each of your backgrounds; how you met and founded ERSA?
Nigel Tomlinson: The founder members of ERSA are first and foremost lovers of drones, especially drone racing, and we have quite a background in the sport.
Herve Pellarin is regarded as the father of drone racing having organised the very first drone race in a forest in Northern France two years ago that went viral. Yann Oeffner is head of the Swiss league and a pioneer of drone technology. Richard Vinuesa organised the first drone expo in Spain and is the head of the Spanish league whilst Andreas Neubauer is the man behind the race tracker software and head of the Austrian league. Metall Danny is Metall Danny, one of the most famous FPV pilots in the world and one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. As for myself I founded the British FPV Racing Association.
We all got together to discuss cooperation between our respective groups but very quickly realised that if the sport was to grow in Europe there needed to be a European organisation that promoted cooperation across the continent.
TLS: As a non profit organisation what are your motivations behind ERSA, and what has the growth been like to date?
Nigel: There are many motivations behind ERSA!
Firstly drone racing has grown, and is still growing, faster than any sport in history. Can you name a sport that after only 18 months has had this many high profile events? From the World Drone Prix in Dubai to the Drone Worlds in Hawaii, and of course ERSA’s own European Championships in Ibiza, that the sport is already enjoying this many major events in such a short time is testament to its potential and those working within in.
This is a sport which is estimated to be worth over $1 billion by 2020. One billion dollars in five years can’t be bad. This has inevitably created a land grab however as various groups try to secure their place on the world map. Sadly, and almost as inevitably, the fact is that many of these groups are motivated by money and profit.
Europe itself was under invasion from a number of these groups with a number of them stemming from the US.
None of these groups considered the grassroots of the sport or had any systems in place to invest money back into it to ensure continued growth. Moreover they certainly didn’t have the interests of the drone racing community at heart. We decided that the only way to protect the sport in Europe from such entities was to form a united front and stand together, and so ERSA was created.
As you mention ERSA is a non profit organisation and this is crucial. This sport is clearly going to be very profitable in the near future, and ERSA can now ensure that a fair percentage of those profits go back into the sport to support the community that is the sport. This unfortunately can never be true of a for profit company.
We formed in November last year and officially launched in February 2016… the response thus far has been amazing. We now have over 25 member countries and we’re collaborating with one another to arrange and put on some the best racing anywhere in the world!
We are also working closely with the FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) to ensure that the grassroots of the sport receives as much support as the professional side.
TLS: The Wembley event was the highest profile so far. How did this go, and what have you got planned for the summer?
Nigel: Wembley was incredible. It was a closed event put on by our technical partner, Qualcomm Industries, to mark the start of that partnership and was attended by press from all over the world. To have the opportunity to bring some of Europe’s best pilots to such an iconic stadium was a dream come true.
What else do we have planned? Too many events to list, but I guess the most high profile will be staging drone racing along the Champs-Élysées in Paris on September 4th, racing at Farnborough International Airshow in July and of course the highlight of the year… the first European Championships in Ibiza in October.
In addition to all this there are the numerous National Championships being held all across Europe in the coming weeks and months. For many countries it will be the first time they’ve staged a national event, but that’s what ERSA is all about, we all chip in and help by sharing our collective knowledge and expertise.
TLS: As the founder of the British FPV Racing Association, are you of the opinion that the UK is leading the way in Europe in the field of drone racing?
Nigel: In some ways I’d say yes. The UK scene is certainly the most active but it’s the cooperation with the national model flying association, the BMFA (British Model Flying Association), that sets the UK apart at the moment.
By working with the BMFA the British FPV Racing Association achieved Special Interest Body status making it the official governing body in the UK and that cooperation has led to there now being over 25 official drone racing clubs across the country, with many more in the formation stage.
It’s that successful format that we are recreating on an international level through ERSA and with its cooperation with the FAI.
TLS: How do you go about recruiting and adding member states? What is the selection policy?
Nigel: ERSA is basically made up of member countries and represented by the main group organiser from that country known as delegates. Some countries like Germany have two delegates due to practical purposes with the size of the country.
Delegates must first demonstrate that they have the best interests of the sport at heart and that they are willing to work with all the other delegates to further the sport in Europe.
Membership is free and all we ask is that each delegate helps his fellow delegates where needed. To put it simply ERSA is a team and each member state must be a team player.
TLS: Is this a sport which favours the younger generations thanks to the skills learned from ever improving video games? How many more BanniUKs are out there waiting to be discovered?
Nigel: This sport clearly inspires the younger generation who grew up gaming and are able to embrace new technologies, but you only have to go to a big competition and you will see pilots aged seven to seventy! I don’t doubt that as the sport progresses the average age will lower but the younger pilots would be foolish to discount the more mature among us.
Without a doubt there are more Luke Bannisters out there. Only last week I attended a casual meet in Liverpool where I met 8 year old Adam…and let me tell you his freestyle is already world class.