By operating its own fleet of drones in the stratosphere, Facebook wants to bring wireless internet to remote parts of the world. The social media giant even hopes to expand beyond its current base of 2.2 billion monthly active users. It therefore came as as suprise when Facebook announced the suspension of its drone-building program Aquila in June. Contrary to some reports, the data company has not abandoned its ambitious plans for high-altitude connectivity. As a newly available document shows, Facebook and Airbus are jointly lobbying the European Commission in Brussels on the subject of drones.
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Facebook said it would cooperate with Airbus on high altitude connectivity in late 2017, but did not give any details. Ever since, the two companies have lobbied for shared policy goals and could possibly enter an even closer business relationship soon. In April this year, Facebook and Airbus had a high-level meeting with a European Commission official, as the document released recently under FOI laws on request of lobby watchgroup Corporate Europe Observatory shows. According to the email, representatives of Facebook and Airbus met with Matthew Baldwin, Vice Director of the Directorate-General for Transport and Mobility.
A drone named Zephyr
The email mentions the Airbus Zephyr drone. „The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the state of play of the project and to see how it is covered by the global (EU) regulatory framework“, states the email, which was sent to several Commission officials. A spokesman for the European Commission, responding to our request, said that no such high-level meeting had taken place since then, but that there was „regular exchanges in order to keep track of technological developments“. (We did a new FOI request for more information.)
Flight tests in Western Australia
When approached by netzpolitik.org, Airbus and Facebook refused to comment on the specifics of the Brussels meeting and their common plans. And yet, their joint effort seems to indicate a possible deal over Zephyr drones by the two companies. A German Facebook spokesperson provided a hint in an email sent to us last week.