Taking a pan-European approach to integrating new airspace users and operations into higher airspace

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Operations above flight level 600 represent an exciting future market for European aviation, as soon as the appropriate technical and regulatory framework has been defined.

Operations above flight level 600 represent an exciting future market for European aviation, as soon as the appropriate technical and regulatory framework has been defined, reflecting the agreement at ICAO’s 13th Air Navigation Conference in October 2018 that States should seek to develop a performance-based global framework for such operations.

To tackle this challenge, the European Commission’s DGs MOVE and GROW organised the European Symposium on Higher Airspace Operations, the first of its kind. The Symposium brought the key European actors together to canvass views, share information and create awareness of the issues presented by operations above FL600, with delegates from regulatory authorities, air navigation service providers, airports, the military, industry, research institutes and airspace operators joining experts from the European Aviation Safety Agency, the SESAR Joint Undertaking, the European Space Agency, the European Defence Agency, the European External Action Services and EUROCONTROL, which hosted the Symposium at our Brussels HQ on 2 April 2019.

New airspace users will create new business opportunities and societal benefits”, underlined Filip Cornelis, Director for Aviation at the European Commission’s DG MOVE, in his opening speech, “but they also present new challenges. We need to understand these new users: we need to know what their requirements are – but also, we need to find out what the potential impact on our aviation systems will be. We have to make sure that operations above FL600 will allow us to maintain the highest levels of safety and ensure our performance and the achievement of the Single European Sky goals. We must understand the new users’ transition through controlled airspace; we must learn how they will interact with manned and unmanned vehicles”.

Matthias Petschke, Director of EU Satellite Navigation Programmes at the European Commission’s DG GROW, called on participants to help assess the emerging new market. Quoting from the Space Strategy, he emphasised how the Commission intends to “encourage the development of commercial markets for low-cost small launch systems or for commercial space activities, such as spaceflight or suborbital space tourism, promoting the appropriate regulatory frameworks as needs arise.”

Europe should aim to “be present in the markets for these emerging technologies and remain competitive – while being aware of the challenges as well as the commercial opportunities,” he explained, stressing the need for providing the appropriate regulatory and operational framework context for these new developments

The Symposium, which attracted over 200 experts, sought to reach a number of conclusions which would serve as inputs towards defining a future European Concept for Operations, which would in turn be a key input for the development of a global framework at ICAO level.

The recommendations of the Symposium were that there was a distinct need for a pan-European approach to integrating new airspace users and operations into higher airspace. Participants called for the safe, secure and orderly implementation of these operations, using risk and performance-based approaches. The Symposium also concluded that safety, security, contingency and resiliency requirements for all phases of flights must be set out – with every effort taken to ensure that while benefiting from fair and equitable access to higher airspace, new airspace users should not disproportionally affect the performance of Europe’s existing ATM network.

The Symposium conclusions also underlined the opportunities created by these new operations relying on high levels of digitalisation and automation, as well as the need to minimise their environmental impact to ensure public acceptability.

In short, Europe needs innovative, scalable solutions that not only meet performance requirements but are also a timely response to market needs.

Working closely with our European partners and under the European Commission’s direction, EUROCONTROL will now elaborate a Concept of Operations for higher airspace operations, looking at all possible users – from “pseudo-satellites, the ‘stratobus’, space planes, high-altitude balloons and hyperjets”, as Philippe Merlo, Director of European Civil-Military Aviation, at EUROCONTROL, pointed out in his opening speech: such higher airspace use is increasingly “not science fiction, it is happening today”. Under mandate from the European Commission, EASA is ready to start the preparatory work required for the definition of the regulatory framework as Luc Tytgat, Strategy and Safety Management Director at EASA, indicated during the panel debate.

A report on the Symposium and a way forward will be delivered to the European Commission in summer 2019, with the CONOPS expected by 2020. Higher airspace usage, as Symposium’s co-chair (along with DG GROW’s Sabine Lecrenier) Christine Berg, Head of the Single European Sky Unit, DG MOVE, emphasised, “This may all sound distant right now, but in a couple of years, we will see more and more operations of this type. The challenge will be to safely integrate this traffic into classical traffic mixes”.

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