“Network of U-space demonstrators is a vital enabler to new drone business market” – EUROCONTROL

Reproduced with the kind permission of Eurocontrol. This feature appears in the latest issue of Skyway, Eurocontrol’s official journal –  https://www.eurocontrol.int/content/skyway

The launch in October 2018 in Antwerp of the European Union (EU) Network of U-space Demonstrators by transport commissioner Violeta Bulc was a landmark event for Europe’s unmanned aircraft system (UAS) industry and the UAS traffic management (UTM), or U-space, sector which underpins it.

The potential benefits of a new UAS-based transport market to Europe are enormous. Within 20 years, the European drone sector is expected to directly employ more than 100,000 people and have an economic impact exceeding €10 billion per year, mainly in services, according to a SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU) study “European drones outlook study”. But the challenges to unlocking this potential are enormous too – developing regulations and procedures for a new types of air vehicles, in low-level airspace, while integrating them into legacy air traffic management (ATM) systems at a development speed which the aviation industry has never before contemplated.

The demonstrator network is a vital part of this process. It aligns U-space operational research with the EU’s ATM Master Plan, the SESAR JU’s research programme, the Commission’s “smart city” projects and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) programme of introducing performance-based regulations. It will build on “the on-going work, stepping-up the technology, operational and service learning curve and the associated regulatory frameworks to a level of maturity capable of triggering a whole spectrum of innovative business and service opportunities in the drone marketplace, in particular Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) and automated operations,” according to the Commission (see also “The European Commission’s demonstrator network objectives” box below).

At the heart of the demonstrator network is the support cell, comprising the European Commission, EUROCONTROL, EASA and the SESAR JU. It is this cell which has the crucial roles of: developing an inventory of all projects within the EU demonstrator network; monitoring the actual performance of U-space demonstrations and implementations before harmonised EU regulations are in place; providing a repository of best practices to support operators and regulators in managing the Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) process when related to U-space implementation, and providing an open discussion forum and a “Handbook for Regulators”. The cell will also publish supporting guidance material for approval of U-space implementation, based on the experiences gathered from the demonstrations.

“The real purpose of the network cell is to harmonise U-space activities going on throughout Europe in a systematic and structured way so that we can accelerate the service offering and bring it to the market as quickly as possible,” says Munish Khurana, Senior Manager, Business Development Directorate European Civil-Military Aviation Co-operation and Strategies at EUROCONTROL. “The sooner we open up the market, the sooner we can make more jobs for European citizens.”

The network demonstrator cell has hit the ground running. On 14 November 2018 EUROCONTROL hosted the first meeting of U-space demonstrator members. The meeting focused on addressing the challenges that businesses are facing in deploying U-space services and looking at how the network can best support them. In the same month, the cell launched a U-space Web Portal and made available a number of crucial supporting documents – a UAS ATM operational concept and a series of discussion documents that were developed with the support of EASA: a UAS Common Altitude Reference System, a UAS ATM Airspace Assessment and UAS Flight Rules.

Researchers undertaking different programmes throughout Europe looking at how UAS can be registered, tracked, identified and operated in a safe and efficient manner in increasingly large and complex airspace areas now have a single set of reference points to which they can refer.

“By bringing all these isolated demonstrations of U-space under one umbrella, we can help researchers overcome the obstacles they face in relation to bureaucratic, regulatory, technical, operational and administrative matters,” says Khurana. “And we want this group to help the regulators, too, understand what needs to be regulated and, where appropriate, give support to them to define and improve the rules.”

The Brussels meeting also discussed ways to de-risk implementations, by reducing first-time errors and uncertainties and sharing lessons learned, notably for BVLOS or automated applications. It brought together ideas to accelerate the lead-time to market for novel services and solutions and provided a platform for those regulators and other public authorities – in particular, safety authorities and local authorities responsible for handling early implementations  –  to jointly acquire the capabilities and develop the due processes and guidance that are key to realising such implementations.

“Another key enabler we are facilitating is to share lessons learned, best practices and the common challenges we face,” says Khurana. “To do this we are bringing together the operational capabilities of EUROCONTROL, the regulatory capabilities of EASA, the administrative and policy capabilities of the Commission, the research and development capabilities of the SESAR JU, along with the other capabilities of network members. This is a forum; it’s almost like a platform rather than a working group. We can’t solve all their problems, but we will know which body within the European institutions can help.”

EUROCONTROL has started the work of monitoring and reporting on the maturity of the implementation of U-Space across Europe, so everyone is aware of what everyone else is doing.

Another Agency contribution to the network demonstrator support cell is to help provide guidelines on how to integrate U-space into air traffic management (ATM) operations in a safe manner. This support work is built on EUROCONTROL’s years of experience in helping integrate UAS into the civil ATM network. The Agency continues to play crucial roles in helping develop standards and regulations in this area through work with colleagues within the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS), the European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE) and the European UAS Standards Coordination Group (EUSCG).

EUROCONTROL is working in close cooperation with the SESAR JU research programme on U-space. “The SESAR JU has a growing portfolio of U-space projects, including demonstrations and exploratory research, that investigate a wide range of enabling services and technologies,” says Robin Garrity, ATM Expert and lead technical expert on U-space at the SESAR JU. “Demonstrations are taking place in 10 states across Europe, addressing visual line of sight (VLOS) and BVLOS drone flights, performing the full spectrum of missions, including support to the emergency services, critical communications, parcel delivery, surveillance and survey. The scope covers information management, command and control, aircraft systems, ground-based technologies, cyber-resilience and geo-fencing.”

“We have considerable experience in exploratory and industrial research on UAS integration challenges,” says Munish Khurana. “We have pivotal roles in key SESAR JU research programmes such as the exploratory research project CORUS – which is developing a concept of operations for U-Space – and PODIUM, the Proving Operations of Drones with Initial UTM, which is one of the first SESAR JU U-space demonstration projects. PODIUM will highlight the important role of UTM in providing a mutual traffic situational awareness for the involved local actors – including ATM bodies – as a means to facilitate their day-to-day drone management. PODIUM will design, perform and implement flight trials and perform long-endurance inspection flights. Over 100 flights will be performed at the Drones Paris Region cluster, in the former air base of Brétigny-sur-Orge, where EUROCONTROL has its advanced simulations centre.

“And in this world of U-space, we’re not just dealing with aviation specialists,” says Munish Khurana. “Non-aviation people speak a very different language. Their appreciation of safety of airspace users is very different so another inherent role for EUROCONTROL is to disseminate knowledge, to make people aware of the things that they must consider in meeting their objectives from a safety point of view by providing guidelines, by monitoring capabilities and highlighting all the risks that they face flying close to, or within, controlled airspace.”

The European Commission’s demonstrator network objectives

The EU Demonstrator network will become the “single point of contact” in Europe for U-space implementations. It will lead to:

·         de-risking implementations, by reducing “first-time” errors and uncertainties and by sharing of “lessons learned”, notably for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) or automated applications;

·         accelerating the lead-time to market for novel services and solutions, notably by facilitating the mobilisation of the relevant public and private parties that are pivotal in enabling and authorising the deployment of such solutions into the marketplace;

·         providing a platform for those regulators and other public authorities – notably security authorities, local authorities – which are confronted with the onus of handling early implementations, to jointly acquire the capabilities and develop the due processes and guidance that are pivotal for such implementations to emerge;

·         reducing red tape by streamlining regulatory and administrative hurdles across borders, pushing for harmonisation to the extent of what is possible and practicable.

It will also lead to better regulation: creating opportunities for Member States’ regulator authorities to collaborate in devising consistent and, as far as practicable, harmonised due processes for approval of U-space implementations. It is important to note that EASA has already started regulatory activities on U-space to harmonise the implementation across the EU and therefore, inputs from the demonstrations would be welcome to these developments. This would encompass notably issues relating to:

·         Institutional set-up: ascertaining how can a U-space market function with various U-space service providers, possibly in competition;

·         Aviation safety: focusing on the concrete safety risks from types of operation;

·         Data protection and privacy: addressing notably the implementation of concepts such as “privacy by design” and “privacy impact assessment” in the realm of UAS and U-space applications;

·         Securityassessing how security issues can be managed and security authorities can be involved in the process;

Liability regime: evaluating the legal implications associated with the responsibilities and liabilities of the various actors in the UAS and U-space value-chain set against the growing autonomy of aircraft and the increasing integration of systems.



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