Set up by the European Commission in October 2018 to support U-space projects and solutions, the network brings together drone practitioners and stakeholders across Europe – including EUROCONTROL with its extensive air traffic management expertise – to help realise the "U-space" concept of safe, secure and environmentally-friendly drone operations in low-level airspace.
Over 100 network members discussed their experience with operating drones in an urban setting, with key presentations by the Port of Antwerp (BE) and the City of Enschede (NL) which explained the business objectives they need U-space to meet, and lessons learned from recent demonstrations held.
Panellists from DSNA, AESA, GUTMA, REGA, ADAC, Volocopter and City of Amsterdam also shared lessons learned and current challenges with a lively audience which posed many thought-provoking questions. In conclusion, the network reached seven key conclusions:
- The U-space regulatory framework needs to strike the right balance between the safety of people and a competitive U-space services market. The safety level needs to be defined by legislation, building on results from R&D, rather than by market forces.
- Requirements for the performance of U-space services need to be defined, covering interoperability between systems, reliability and integrity of data, communication, etc. Work on defining European standards has started, but this needs to pick up momentum.
- A definition of a commonly accepted U-space technical architecture is needed that strikes the right balance between meeting local requirements and supporting pan-European provision of interoperable services
- Market/business considerations include the need to promote public and private sector investment to support the creation of a U-space services market; and the importance of focusing on creating business case for specific use cases one by one
- In terms of the integration of U-space into ATM, the eventual target state is integrated manned and unmanned aircraft into U-space. Current HEMS helicopter operators have confirmed regular and dangerous encounters with drones, so this is a priority issue that needs to be resolved in collaboration with both communities, alongside regulators, service providers and researchers.
- Open information sharing regarding lessons learned and ways of overcoming common challenges related to U-space services, including collaboration with the US and ICAO.
- Key public acceptance factors are noise and visual pollution, environmental impacts, and the privacy and safety/security of citizens. The network highlighted the need to improve public perception regarding the benefits of responsible drone use, e.g. via running safety awareness campaigns, national roadshows, jointly setting up long-term drone demonstrations with cities, organising focus groups at local levels throughout Europe, etc.
Future topics to be tackled by the network members include a focus on the factors impacting the Urban Air Mobility business case; improving public awareness especially among recreational drone users, who frequently violate no-fly zone and maximum altitude limits; working more with the military; and engaging with the private and public sectors to promote the creation of European U-space test centres allowing businesses to conduct interoperable tests with conditions comparable to a live environment.