U-Space “technically feasible but concerns remain” – PODIUM research conclusions

The U-Space concept – at least for U-Space service levels one and two – is viable and current UAS traffic management (UTM) technologies are approaching maturity for operational deployment – with one or two notable exceptions. These are the two main conclusions of the results of the Proving operations of drones with initial UAS traffic management (PODIUM) SESAR research project (https://www.unmannedairspace.info/latest-news-and-information/we-need-a-utm-system-capable-of-coping-with-different-legislation-in-different-states-peter-alty-podium/).

PODIUM project leaders outlined their conclusions and recommendations at a dissemination event in Eurocontrol Brussels headquarters on 17 October. All the systems trialled were technically feasible but technology concerns focused around the use of a laptop for situational awareness, the accuracy and validity of low-level airspace aeronautical data and the requirement for an integrated flight control and U space/UTM solution U-space tool, especially for strategic (pre –operational) flight plan deconfliction. There were further concerns about the robustness of the trackers (ADS-B 1090 MHz, GSM, and L-band UNB) used in the PODIUM trials as on several occasions the demonstration flights experienced problems with the accuracy (horizontal and vertical) and the availability of the tracker signal. “There must be a robust and easy to install solution for the integration of trackers on the drones,” was one of the conclusions of the research.

A full list of recommendations and conclusions is given below:

Maturity – Pre-flight

Drone operators, air traffic controllers and supervisors confirm the operational and technical acceptability/feasibility of the current PODIUM U-space/UTM solution for the mission preparation phase (corresponding to U1 and some U2 services), albeit with the following remarks:

  • Drone operators require a positive business case to justify the take-up of a Uspace/UTM solution
  • The UTM/U-space system must allow access to trustworthy aeronautical, national and local legislation data applicable to drone operations
  • The user satisfaction with U-space/UTM will be strongly influenced by the usability and accessibility of the HMI
  • There is a strong preference among professional drone operators for a single access point to all of the necessary services, and which is compatible with existing national registration systems (this implies strong interoperability requirements)

Maturity – Flight execution  

Air traffic controllers and supervisors confirm the operational and technical acceptability/feasibility of the current PODIUM U-space/UTM solution for the flight execution phase (corresponding to some U2 services), albeit with the following remarks:

  • Professional drone pilots and air traffic controllers have a strong preference for an automated messaging system that reduces workload and does not occupy the tower frequency
  • In the absence of an automated messaging system, clear R/T communications procedures and phraseology between the pilot and the air traffic controller/supervisor are essential
  • It is very challenging for a “human” supervisor to respond adequately to “unexpected scenarios” involving multiple drone flights. In such cases, a rule-based and automated supervisor function is essential U-space

Flight execution

Drone operators, air traffic controllers and supervisors confirm the operational and technical acceptability, and potential benefits, of the trackers (ADS-B 1090 MHz, GSM, and L-band UNB) and the Access Point Name/Firewall connectivity, albeit with the following remarks:

  • On a number of occasions the demonstration flights experienced problems with the accuracy (horizontal and vertical) and the availability of the tracker signal. These problems require further investigation
  • There must be a robust and easy to install solution for the integration of trackers on the drones

A number of drone operators did not confirm the operational and technical acceptability of the current PODIUM U-space/UTM solution for the flight execution phase (corresponding to U2), with the following remarks:

  • The use of a laptop for situational awareness “in the field” is not practical for the flight crew, and a handheld display would be a much better solution
  • There is a strong preference amongst professional drone operators for an integrated flight control and U space/UTM solution U-space

Main recommendations

  • Ensure that U-space/UTM systems interact seamlessly and automatically with national systems for pilot and drone registrations, permission requests, etc.
  • Define the aeronautical data requirements and the associated authorities for drone operations in VLL airspace. Assess the suitability of NOTAMS to support drone operations (The work currently done by EASA for the development of AMC-GM to article 15 (geographical zones) of IR2019/947 is very relevant here).
  • Involve drone operators, air traffic controllers and supervisors in the design of the U Space/UTM human machine interface, with a view to maximising usability and accessibility.
  • Optimise the interactions between the flight crew and the human machine interfaces for the (drone) flight controls and the U-space/UTM system during flight execution.
  • Strengthen situational awareness in the flight preparation phase for professional drone pilots and supervisors (with a view to handling conflicting flight paths, eventual violations, no-fly zones).
  • Strengthen situational awareness for professional drone operators in the flight execution phase by providing information about own flight, other flights in the area, no-fly zones, and unexpected events on a mobile application. 8. Define coordination procedures, phraseology and the means for ensuring reliable communications between the flight crew and supervisors/air traffic controllers.
  • Define operational procedures for drone flights entering a controlled airspace environment (CTR, airport) and for responding to abnormal situations (e.g. areas for stacking or emergency landings in the event of traffic conflicts, equipment failure).
  • Validate U-space/UTM performance for scenarios with increasing traffic density and complexity.

U-space recommendations for regulation and standards

  • Ensure that U-space/UTM systems provide drone operators with access to trustworthy and up-to-date aeronautical, national and local legislation data/rules. This is on the understanding that only “official” data should be used and that “open source” data – which risks to not comply with aeronautical data quality requirements – is not sufficient.
  • Determine the areas of operation for which drone tracking is required, and define the minimum standards for the trackers (i.e. accuracy, availability and RF interoperability) and their installation on board the drone. This is on the understanding that U-space/UTM systems must not degrade existing ATM surveillance systems, e.g. no degradation of the 1090MHz frequency for the RF link technology.
  • Progress the standardisation of trackers, and allow for certifiable low power devices.
  • Perform airspace assessments to determine the level of U-space/UTM services and systems required in a particular airspace.
  • Develop a regulatory framework which maximises the granting of automated flight approvals for flights outside of manned controlled aerodrome environments.
  • Determine the rules for the safe handling of drone traffic with manned aviation, especially for BVLOS flights in uncontrolled airspace.
  • Develop standards for equipment, software and data for which failure reduces safety to an unacceptable level.
The PODIUM research trials

The PODIUM research programme was developed to agree conclusions on the maturity of U-space services and technologies – backed by evidence on flight efficiency, safety, security and human performance metrics etc. – when used in defined operational scenarios and environments

PODIUM consortium members demonstrated 18 VLOS and BVLOS  operational scenarios, comprising 73 demonstration flights/138 flight authorisation workflows at five operational sites in Odense in Denmark, Bretigny and Rodez in France, and Marknesse/Eelde in the Netherlands.

Under the leadership of Eurocontrol, the consortium comprised  Airbus, DSNA, DELAIR, Drones Paris Region, Integra Aerial Services, Naviair, NLR, Orange, and Unifly.

Third-parties including many small and medium enterprises working in the drone business: Hionos, Drones-Center, Civic Drone, Skydrone Innovations, Green Communication SAS, Luceor, Targetdrone, Pydesign, Azur Drones, Parrot Drones, CDSI, Synovia, Drone Hive, Cerbair, Aeromapper; LVNL, RPAS Services, E-Producties, Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra), Dutch Drone Company; Centre of Odense, University of Southern Denmark (SDU).

The Stakeholder Advisory Board comprised  IATA, ECA, Belgian Police, EUROCAE, CAA DK, DSAC, DSAE, Conseil pour les drones civils, Fédération Professionnelle des Drones Civils, DFS, Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment , CAA-NL, LVNL, ENAV.

For more information

https://www.eurocontrol.int/event/proving-operations-drones-initial-uas-traffic-management-podium-dissemination-event

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