France takes first steps to automate authorisation of drone flights within Nice airspace  

French air navigation service provider DSNA has selected industry partner AirMap to lead the experimental U-space implementation trials in Côte d’Azur airspace. “Thanks to AirMap, we are developing authorisation services in controlled airspace for drone operators using more automated, more digital, easier methods,”  said DSNA’s programme director for new UTM services, Antoine Martin, who is responsible for the French U-space implementation programme, called U-Space Together.

The AirMap platform provides stakeholders with a common view of the authorisation process for everyone involved. By digitising the process – from the submission by a drone operator to the final approval process – the process is mapped and referenced. AirMap Product Management Senior Vice President Bernard Lacroix says the platform is designed to be extremely configurable to support the wide range of industry requirements. “We built the platform with air navigation service providers who do this on a daily basis. We have lots of feedback and we continue to evolve the product.”

DSNA is implementing the technology at Nice Côte d’Azur and Cannes airports to provide visualisation, communication, and supervision for regional drone operations. The platform also enables authorities to communicate aeronautical data, airspace rules, and dynamic restrictions to UAS operators, and can display current traffic. “The tool can handle central office and local branches accepting things at different times. Data is organised, time-stamped, and shows who has done what, when,” explains Lacroix.

The platform supports three main categories of operation:

  • Standard ‘low-risk’ operations – VLOS. Very-low altitude 20-30m, operator controlled, minimal air risk. Can be automated with no human approval needed.
  • Standard ‘complex’ operations – VLOS or BVLOS. Some air risk due to proximity to manned aviation. Some coordination needed with ANSP and other authorities. Tower gives clearance before flight is performed. Requires cooperative workflow.
  • Specific Category operations. Unique, individual waivers which can be replicated. Includes ANSP approval of flight plans.

Lacroix says the platform is a powerful way to introduce operational efficiencies to ANSPs and CAAs and offers a means to scale airspace management processes to meet demand in the future. “UAS need to be able to access airspace quickly. They can’t wait days approval. The challenge is to provide a safe environment for everyone.”

DSNA issued more than 10,000 authorisations to drone operations in controlled airspace in 2019 and reports rising flight requests. These are currently handled using experimental digital platforms which provide a limited set of services for some airports and in selected airspace. This is not enough to provide all the necessary services, according to DSNA.

“We want to achieve non-segregation of drones in a safe, fair and efficient way in controlled airspace, in non-controlled airspace, and in urban areas,” explains Martin. “A lot of urban areas are within controlled airspace and this is where there is a lot at stake. We focus on safety for classic manned aviation, safety for drone operations, and safety for urban air mobility.”

DSNA launched U-Space Together in 2019 in order to develop a digital environment in collaboration with eight industry partners, including AirMap and Altitude Angel (, capable of supporting drone operations. “Step one started this year with the selection of eight partners who will participate in experimental platforms and use their technical solutions in order to go to the next steps.”

Eventually DSNA plans to build a fully operational architecture with its partners which will provide the agency with a “fully certified, secure, digital interface with the U-space world”. In the next step DSNA will create a “Hubspace” to support services including deconfliction, geo fencing and geographic information for operators, and secure connections with other authorities – such as law enforcement and military. “The goal is to build this in a collaborative, iterative way with our partners between now and 2023.”

AirMap was among early providers of US Low Altitude Authorisation and Notification Capability (LAANC) services in 2017 and has subsequently worked with customers to develop a way to automate the process in a flexible way. US Swiss ANSP skyguide trialled AirMap’s UTM Center platform in 2019 and recently announced plans to deploy the digital authorisation platform in Switzerland.

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(Image:Craig Hastings/Shutterstock)

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