Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) vision for Europe
Although the idea of remotely piloting an aircraft came very early to the minds of the pioneer aircraft designers, the rise of remotely piloted flying systems is the direct consequence of the immense progress made in the fields of electronics, computer science, automation, power storage and communications.
When combined with aviation technologies, building on radio-controlled models, those technologies have spirited into being a new generation of flying systems, the RPAS.
These flying systems are changing what was previously widely understood to be the realm of aviation. They open up the possibility of new missions for flying systems, some of them directly interacting with aviation as we know it, others in new areas of airspace which were previously very rarely used.
The new traffic from these missions and the associated technical capabilities need to be managed in order to ensure compliance with the legitimate demands of the general public and industry and guarantee the safety of other airspace users. There is also the need to accommodate recreational radio-controlled aviation, which has an excellent safety record.
With their new capabilities, these flying systems are bridging the gap between RC aviation and traditional aviation. All aircraft, including RPAS, will have to meet the airspace requirements set for any given airspace classification.
Given the developments with military aviation, it would seem that these new flying systems are not a fashion that will disappear. They are here to stay and a whole range of business models have been proposed for their use. Some businesses are using them in place of other means of transportation, while others are opening up potential activities which significantly improve safety, even in aviation.
When sharing airspace, these new technologies must co-exist with mature technologies which have to date guaranteed a very high level of safety. Traffic management in the airspace currently used by commercial, business and leisure aviation has been supported by huge investments over a very long period of time, to ensure the safety and performance of the network. All the KPIs must be taken into account.
When opening up new possibilities, this new traffic has to be managed taking full advantage of the technologies which have made the rise of RPAS possible, while maintaining safe access for manned airspace users, which must not be jeopardized by the RPAS. Any increase in traffic in this area will have to be compatible with legitimate public demands in terms of the environment. Electromagnetic emissions, pollution, noise and other potential disturbances will have to be properly addressed.
Then there is the legitimate question of categorizing these flying systems, on the basis of the operations performed and where they take place.
Before incorporating these new flying systems into aviation as we know it, due account should be taken of the activity performed and the range of the activity in order to draw a distinction between aircraft systems on the one hand and tools on the other hand, the latter being merely an extension of the human hand or eye.
For the new aircraft systems, the wide variety of sizes opens up the possibility of taking off from or landing at new locations. Depending on the airspace flown, this needs to be made compatible with the current way of managing the traffic, or organised in a way which takes advantage of the supporting technologies.