EU announces EUR47.5 million funding for five U-space and UAM projects between now and 2025

European Commissioner for Transport, Adina-Ioana Vălean, has announced EUR47.5 million funding for SESAR 3 JU Digital Sky Demonstrators from the Connecting Europe Facility between now and 2025. The research projects are detailed below. Made during the Connecting Europe Days, the announcement is part of a larger package of transport infrastructure funding adopted by the Commission.

The Digital Sky Demonstrators will take place in live operational environments and will put to the test (on a very large scale) the technological solutions necessary to deliver the Digital European Sky. The demonstrators are part of an innovation pipeline designed by the SESAR Joint Undertaking to bridge the gap between applied/industrial research and industrialisation, and to accelerate market uptake. Critical to their success will be the involvement of early movers, as well as a strong and close connection with relevant standardisation and regulatory activities and bodies.

The projects were selected following a call issued in September 2021 by the European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA) under the Connecting Europe Facility. The demonstrators are a key tool to support the SESAR JU’s vision of delivering the Digital European Sky, matching the ambitions of the European Green Deal and the Europe fit for the digital age initiatives. The two SESAR-related topics covered by the call, ‘U-space and urban air mobility’ and ‘aviation Green Deal’, were selected from among nine flagships outlined in the work programme of the new SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking.

Digital Sky Demonstrators

Aviation Green Deal

The objective of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 set by the European Green Deal, in line with the EU’s commitment to global climate action under the Paris Agreement, requires accelerating the shift to smarter and more sustainable mobility. This implies the need for aviation to intensify its efforts to reduce emissions. To this end, a set of operational measures to improve the fuel efficiency of flights will have to be put in place with the aim of enabling aircraft to fly their optimum fuel-efficient 4D trajectory. At the same time, to ensure sustainable air traffic growth, it will be necessary to speed up the modernisation of the infrastructure in order to offer more capability and capacity, making it more resilient to future traffic demand and adaptable through more flexible air traffic management procedures. Furthermore, reducing the impact of aircraft noise and improving air quality will remain a priority around airports.

ECHOES: The Extended Communications in VHF Over Enhanced Satellite segment (ECHOES) aims to demonstrate how satellite-based VHF voice and data communications, as well as ADS-B surveillance can improve ATM services and have positive environmental impact in remote and oceanic regions.  Project lead Startical. Duration 36 months.

ECHOES will launch two new satellites to provide new operational services aimed at:

  • Increased efficiency: reducing separation, flying more efficient routes and increasing punctuality.
  • Reinforced safety: monitoring every flight and connecting aircraft permanently.
  • Reduced CO2 footprint: enabling more efficient routes and increasing the predictability of flights.
  • Flexible route planning: allowing users to fly preferred and more flexible efficient routes.
  • Readiness: No changes will be required by services in existing installations, avionics or controllers and pilots procedures.
  • Standardisation: support the development of standardisation for satellite-based communication, navigation and surveillance systems.

HERON: Highly Efficient Green Operations (HERON) aims  to mitigate CO2 emissions from air transport through the development of more efficient aircraft and air traffic control operations enabled by:

  • Improved technology, such as equipping aircraft with more advanced continuous descent approach flight management system (FMS) functionalities, increased glide slope capabilities;
  • More efficient aircraft operations targeting gate-to-gate optimisation through green approaches (efficient procedure designs), green taxiing, trajectory planning improvements and integrated 4D for green trajectories (ADS-C);
  • Infrastructure improvements, including ADS common services and new controller supporting tools;
  • Harmonised performance benefit assessments and ambitious standardisation and regulation supporting efficient operations.

The demonstration will bring together mainline aircraft operators, airports, air navigation service providers, who will carry out some 1,000 flights across Europe. Project lead Airbus. Duration 36 months.

U-space and urban air mobility

To unlock the potential of the drone economy and enable urban air mobility (UAM) on a wide scale, a new air traffic management framework for low-altitude operations needs to be put in place. Known as U-space, the framework foresees a set of new services relying on a high level of digitalisation and automation of functions and specific procedures designed to support safe, efficient and secure access to airspace for large numbers of drones. As such, U-space is an enabling framework designed to facilitate any kind of routine mission, in all classes of airspace and all types of environment – even the most congested – while addressing an appropriate interface with manned aviation and air traffic control.

U-ELCOME: U-space European COMmon dEpLoyment (U-ELCOME) aims to facilitate the market uptake of U-space services (U1 and U2) through a set of demonstrations in various operational environments and locations across Europe (Spain, Italy and France). The demonstration activities will also address the interface with the air traffic management system to ensure safe and fair access to airspace for all airspace users.

The U-ELCOME will aim to develop a scalable U-space architecture enabling the required level of information exchange and coordination among U-space service providers (USSPs) and between USSPs and ATM using interoperable standards, allowing for automated drone traffic management and situational awareness among all U-space stakeholders. Project lead Eurocontrol. Duration 36 months.

BURDI: BeNe U-space Reference Design Implementation (BURDI) aims to demonstrate the feasibility of managing dense and complex unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations in controlled, uncontrolled and urban air mobility environments. Multiple domains will be considered, such as the delivery of goods, inspections, support to medical as well as security operations. The trials will take place around the Belgian cities of Antwerp, Liège and Brussels close to international airports, an active maritime port and the border with The Netherlands. The project aims to ensure that solutions to be deployed are economically sustainable and socially acceptable and of benefit to the general public. Ultimately, the project aims to become a reference for best practices, standardisation, harmonisation and/or interoperability, fostering operational deployment of U-space airspace across Europe. Project lead Skeyes. Duration 33 months.

EALU-AER: Enhanced Automation for U-space/ATM integration (EALU-AER) aims to demonstrate U-space architecture operations (U1 and U2 services) and the integration with ATM, leveraging world-class drone traffic management technology solutions. These solutions include a UAS platform (WebUAS), a backhaul network (ARINC Ground Network), communications and surveillance equipment, and advanced three-dimensional phased array radar (Skyler). The project builds on previous research and seeks to enable higher automation for future U3 and U4 services. The project will focus on five use cases of urban air mobility that capture the operational requirements, vehicle dynamics, and technology demonstrations associated with the projected near-term UAM services market, such as local inspection, light-freight, long-distance logistics, air-taxi operations, hence spanning short to long range distances.

The partners involved aim to integrate the U-space system into the Future Mobility Campus Ireland’s (FMCI) vertiport operations site and associated facilities. Project lead Future Mobility Campus Ireland. Duration 36 months.

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