Article

Europe is now in the fast lane to implementing UAS traffic management systems

UAS traffic management systems

With the adoption of the U-space regulatory package Europe is now on the fast track to implementing drone eco-systems throughout the continent. EUROCONTROL is providing key services to Member States and industry in developing a safe and profitable European-wide unmanned air systems (UAS) market.

Munish Khurana, Business Development Manager at EUROCONTROL, explains

In April 2021 the European Commission adopted the U-space package, three regulations that together create the conditions necessary for both drones and manned aircraft to operate safely in section of airspace known as U-space. The regulations introduce new services for drone operators, allowing them to carry out more complex and longer-distance operations, particularly in congested, low-level airspace (below 120m) and when out of sight.

In enacting the regulations, European Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said:

“Drones are a clear part of the future transport and logistics landscape. There is vast potential when it comes to new cargo and delivery services, as well as other innovative applications, including drone flights with passengers on board in the future. This has clear added value in terms of achieving our decarbonisation, digitalisation and resilience ambitions, and the U-space package is an important step towards creating the well-functioning, trusted and safe enabling environment that we need to develop a competitive EU drone services market.”

Member States of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) now have the task of implementing U-space regulatory procedures so drone operators can build their businesses in a seamless European market. Some States - such as Poland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Spain and Switzerland - have already begun the process but many others have been waiting for the regulations to be enacted before starting the U-space implementation programmes.

This has created a patchwork of U-space service areas in Europe, some of which are relatively mature while others are still in the preliminary planning stage. The regulations are also at a relatively high level and considerable work needs to be undertaken to understand how they should be introduced at an operational level – the provision of aeronautical data for U-space areas, for example - and a standards level, where key standards for the exchange of safety data have yet to be fully agreed. Further work will also be needed to support the regulator in determining validation and certification of U-space service providers (USSPs) and defining acceptable means of compliance for national regulators in certifying U-space areas. The devil is in the detail.

"We want to be able to have the capability to validate U-space services in a simulator environment, something that our stakeholders have very much welcomed."

EUROCONTROL is playing a pivotal role in supporting States introduce U-space concepts, while, in parallel, enabling industry take the next steps to developing commercial drone operations at scale by helping to support the creation of standards and regulations which will underpin a seamless European market.

“For the least mature States the major challenge is a lack of awareness. Many can’t get internal stakeholders to agree a common policy to implement U-space so we can help by offering a general overview of U-space developments in Europe to see how other States have developed a common approach. We offer this support as part of the regular training packages we deliver throughout the year. And, when requested, we can also provide more bespoke support to help EUROCONTROL Member States in implementing U-space in their country. We have developed a method for airspace assessments that we have applied to conduct an airspace assessment in Latvia, and are currently applying it to conduct airspace assessments at Estonia, Israel and Italy. Based on our experience of conducting airspace assessment, we are constantly refining the method. We plan to publish a more mature version of the airspace assessment method on the EUROCONTROL website.”

Munish Khurana Business Development Manager at EUROCONTROL’s Directorate European Civil- Military Aviation

EUROCONTROL’s U-space/drone industry support programme now spans a wide range of activities (See: “Six work programmes to advance UTM and drone integration” box), from helping to define outstanding regulations and standards (See: “Supporting the development of standards and regulations in U-space and counter-UAS”) to providing the technical support to validate U-space operations and procedures.Through its work in the network of U-space demonstrator programmes and supporting States implement U-space programmes, the Agency has become a unique repository of expert knowledge which it is making available to a wide range of stakeholders. For example, the Agency’s communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS) expertise in UAS operations is supporting industry partners in cyber security matters, ensuring spectrum-for-drones policies are aligned with information gathered from relevant ICAO working groups and helping the Direction des Services de la Navigation Aérienne (DSNA) in France ensure security issues are properly addressed in U-space developments.

A drone flying towards some mountains.

Riga Airspace Assessment report

The first step in safely integrating drones

The Agency is also promoting EASA initiatives on disseminating best practices and ongoing activities with non-EUROCONTROL International States as part of the EU/EASA international workshops and activities.

“We are also now developing a validation centre, a centre of excellence for drones and urban air mobility (UAM) in Bretigny,” says Munish Khurana. ”We want to be able to have the capability to validate U-space services in a simulator environment, something that our stakeholders have very much welcomed.

“The Commission has also requested that we look to expand the scope of the European Network of U-space Demonstrators beyond demonstration into implementation, including UAM.”

This will be challenging work - UAM involves the most highly complex type of operations supported by U-space, with relatively high levels of risk, so EUROCONTROL’s role in this area will be crucial in operational integration of UAM in the airspace.

And timescales are tight. For example, France plans to have a UAM eco-system in place for the 2024 Olympics and Paralympic games and is setting up a dedicated test area at Pontoise airfield, around 35 kilometers northwest of Paris, to trial the various concepts. EUROCONTROL is providing support on technical and operational aspects.

“Work has also begun to define a global U-space/UTM concept of operations,” says Munish Khurana. “There are concepts of operations in place in some parts of the world and increasingly being identified in others but they are not necessarily all interoperable and may be defined in different regions in different ways. For vehicle manufactures this would present a major challenge – it would mean that a vehicle developed for a region might not be suitable elsewhere. So we are starting work in a new group led by Airbus and Boeing, endorsed by ICAO, to define a global concept of operations and develop a global action plan.

"In this area, EUROCONTROL can be an independent, neutral stakeholder representing all stakeholders in Europe.”

Drone flying in the sky

European Network of U-space Demonstrators

A forum to share knowledge on how to keep drone operations safe, secure and green.

Six work programmes to advance UTM and drone integration

EUROCONTROL supports the European initiatives related to U-space in six main areas:

Key research projects related to U-space that EUROCONTROL is actively involved in are:

Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) U-space projects:

  • CORUS-XUAM (Concept of Operations for euRopean U-space Services – eXtension for Urban Air Mobility)
  • BUBBLES (BUilding Basic BLocks for a U-Space SEparation Management Service)
  • DACUS (Demand and Capacity Optimisation in U-space)
  • ICARUS (Integrated Common Altitude Reference system for U–space)
  • INVIRCAT (IFR RPAS Control in Airports and TMA)
  • URCLerED (Unified Integrated Remain Well Clear Concept in Airspace D-G Class)
  • AURA (ATM U-Space Interface)

Horizon 2020 U-space related Research projects: 

  • 5D-AeroSafe (5 services of Drones for increased Airports and waterways Safety and security)
  • LABYRINTH (Unmanned Traffic Management 4d Path Planning Technologies for Drones)
  • Drone4Safety (Inspection Drones for Ensuring Safety in Transport Infrastructures)

Other research activities

In addition to its contribution to SESAR projects, EUROCONTROL via its Drone Unit and the SJU actively cooperate to develop and maintain the U-space research baseline (CONOPS, requirements, link to the Master Plan, Business Model) through regular review update of the U-space Baseline considering the latest SESAR project outcomes and update the European U-space community by organising workshops and events to promote, aid and accelerate the application of U-space/UAM research

EUROCONTROL provides technical and operational support to development of International and European regulations related to UAS and U-space within both the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

Within the European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE), the Agency is working on counter-UAS standards and within the International Aviation Transport Agency (IATA) to provide domain expertise in developing a document on “Unauthorized UA incursions at the airport”

EUROCONTROL supports them in technical and operational matters related to U-space and UAS. To promote interoperability of a future UAS and U-space system at global scale, EUROCONTROL coordinates and exchanges information with other geographical regions such as the United States, China, Japan and Australia.

In collaboration with its institutional and industrial stakeholders, EUROCONTROL provides technical advisory service on U-space matters, promotes harmonisation of U-space in Europe and in partnership with European Commission, DG-Move, EASA and the SJU, the Drone unit of EUROCONTROL facilitates sharing of lessons learnt via European Network of U-space Demonstrators to support European businesses to transition from U-space demonstrations to implementations. EUROCONTROL monitors and reports on annual basis the status of U-space demonstration projects and implementation status of U-space services.

In partnership with EUROCONTROL Luxemburg, the drones unit delivers training virtually and physically on matters related to U-space and UAS on regular basis.

Supporting the development of standards and regulations in U-space and counter-UAS

EUROCONTROL provides technical and operational support to U-space and counter-UAS (C-UAS) regulatory and standards guidance.

For EASA, the Agency has and is providing support to

  1. U-space Regulation, endorsed by the EASA committee
  2. Ongoing development of Acceptable Means of Compliance and Guidance Material for U-space Regulation:
    • Lead WP1 Airspace Risk Assessment and WP5 U-space - Flight authorisation
    • Participate in development of WP5 U-space- Flight authorisation, WP7 Electronic conspicuity (reg. amending SERA) and WP9 – Coordination with local authorities
  3. Drone regulation 947/2019 and 945/2019
  4. Work package management and Technical support to EASA to prepare aerodromes to mitigate potential risks from unauthorised UAS (or drones)

Promote the guidance material using the extensive stakeholder network of EUROCONTROL

For EUROCAE, the Agency is providing support to develop standards for

  1. Counter UAS (C-UAS)
  2. ED-286 OSED for C-UAS in controlled airspace
  3. Interoperability requirements for C-UAS systems
  4. System Performance Requirements for noncooperative UAS detection systems

For IATA, the Agency is providing domain expertise in developing a document on “Unauthorized UA incursions at the airport”.

For ICAO, the Agency is a member of the ICAO Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Panel (RPASP) and co-rapporteur of its C2-link working group, defining a datalink critical for air traffic services (ATS) and air traffic control (ATC) data/voice communications. It is also a member of the ICAO UAS Advisory Group.

Get our latest issue of Skyway

Explore our latest articles and download the full issues.