Leslie Cary is Chief, Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) Section at the International Civil Aviation Organization
What are the upcoming milestones within the ICAO work programme for integrating RPAS within unsegregated airspace? Perhaps you could briefly describe what has been achieved so far.
The path toward full integration of RPAS in non-segregated airspace is a long one. ICAO’s focus for RPAS is to facilitate international operations in accordance with instrument flight rules. As such, aircraft must be certificated, remote pilots must be licensed, RPAS operators must be certified, the spectrum used for the C2 Link must comply with technical specifications including link performance requirements that will vary depending on airspace and procedure, the aircraft must be able to detect hazards such as other aircraft, adverse meteorological conditions, terrain, etc. and avoid them, to name a few of the pre-requisites for full integration. Standards for all of these requirements are in varying levels of development at ICAO. The licensing Standards have already been adopted by the Council of ICAO and will become applicable for States in November 2020. We are currently working on guidance material to assist national licensing authorities as well as approved training organizations implement the provisions.
The airworthiness Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) as well as an initial package of SARPs for the C2 Link have been endorsed by the RPAS Panel and will soon enter the approval process wherein they will be considered by the Air Navigation Commission (ANC) before being circulated to States and approved international organizations for comment. The approval process is completed with the adoption of the SARPs by Council. We expect the approval process to take approximately two years.
Provisions on flight operations including the RPAS operator certificate (ROC) will be contained in a new Annex 6, Part IV – International Operations of Remotely Piloted Aircraft. The new Annex is expected to enter the approval process in late 2020 along with SARPs on safety management, followed by provisions necessary to support air traffic management, and detect and avoid related to conflicting traffic.
Other topics and enhancement of the initial packages will be brought forward as they reach maturity.
How is this process integrated within wider programmes which aim to provide for the digitisation of CNS/ATM systems and integrate high-level (supersonic etc) and low level (drone delivery services) ATM rules and procedures? How much is the ICAO work on RPAS integration within civil airspace linked to the work on UTM adoption (in areas such the setting up of a global UAS registration system for example)
ICAO has two streams of work underway, one on RPAS (traditional aviation approach with full certifications as explained above) and one for other UAS that remain outside of the IFR framework. This division reflects the very different type of operations that will be conducted by different types of aircraft and systems. The regulatory frameworks need to reflect these differences.
New entrants into the aviation system are at an advantage when it comes to digitization of CNS/ATM systems. They are not facing the cost and complexity of retrofitting aircraft with new equipment and technology, rather they are driving many of the innovations that will affect the aviation system as a whole, over time. One of these changes will be to the flight rules.
ICAO Standards require that every aircraft comply with either visual flight rules (VFR) or instrument flight rules (IFR). Visual tracking of the unmanned aircraft (UA) at all times by the remote pilot or an RPA observer is one aspect of complying with VFR. Operations conducted beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) which are not conducted in accordance with IFR, are therefore not complying with existing flight rules. This is a complication that is not currently in the ICAO work programme.
RPA and supersonic aircraft, whether manned or remotely piloted, will be expected to comply with the CNS/ATM requirements when operating in airspace where those requirements have been established. As digitisation of systems increases, any affected aircraft will be expected to meet increased/revised requirements. Aircraft transitioning through ‘traditional’ airspace to operate above it (e.g. above flight level (FL) 600 or 660) where few CNS/ATM requirements currently exist and where hazards are minimal, will still have an obligation to comply with the requirements during their transition phase. Conversely, low level operations of unmanned aircraft face a diverse set of hazards and present a new level of risk to third parties. Mitigating these hazards and risks will be essential for society to accept low level operations. UTM is one form of mitigation.
Fundamental for UTM and U-space is the identification and tracking of all UA in the airspace. Identification is dependent upon registration. Every ICAO Member State has an obligation to register aircraft and to share that information under specified conditions. The increasing volume of small UA that need to be registered and the fact that individual UA may operate in many States, not just the “home” State, introduces complications for regulators and UTM providers alike. Building an efficient system for sharing registration information amongst States and approved stakeholders is key to identifying foreign/transient UA operating within the UTM system.
What would you say are the major challenges (technical, regulatory) to UTM/ATM integration, as well as civil/military airspace integration in support of military RPAS operations, and are there any signs of how these will be overcome?
ATM systems have been developed with increasing levels of accuracy, reliability and integrity over the years. Certification of equipment, systems and data are seen as an essential element of safety management. UTM systems, on the other hand, are evolving in a very different environment. Connecting the two systems presents technical, regulatory and cultural conflicts. These are being identified and discussed, but implementable solutions will take more work and demonstrations.
Military entities have been operating RPAS in many States, often fully integrated with civil traffic and with civil air traffic control. Lessons learned from these activities are being shared and are helping in the development of the civil regulatory frameworks.
Who are the early adopters in RPAS integration programmes?
Many States have programmes, however they focus overwhelmingly on domestic use of small UA and initial demonstrations with larger UA/RPA operating in mostly segregated airspace where risk to third parties is low. The US FAA and EASA are working with manufacturers on certification of RPAS, a first step for integration of civil RPAS.
What is ICAO doing differently in the way it develops standards and regulations for RPAS integrated ops, to meet the urgent operational requirements?
The pace of work for the RPAS Panel, the lead expert group addressing Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) for RPAS, is unlike that of other such groups. The panel meets at ICAO three times per year with some of the working groups meeting at least as many times away from Montreal. The pressure to develop the regulatory framework as quickly as possible while also identifying and resolving the many complexities introduced by RPAS is felt keenly by all participants in the work.
The work on UTM, separate from that on RPAS, is also outside the norm for ICAO. Beginning in 2017, and in response to a request from the 39 session of the ICAO Assembly to undertake a broad scope of work on UAS, ICAO decided to establish a novel approach. Rather than calling for another panel, we drafted a problem statement and issued a Request for Information on methods to address the problem. Our first problem statement focused on registration, identification and tracking; communications systems and geo-fencing like systems as fundamentals of UTM. We had a team of experts review the submissions and select those that provided the most potential to be presented at DRONE ENABLE with an international audience of aviation, technology and industry stakeholders.
This same process was followed in 2018 with the Second DRONE ENABLE being held in Chengdu, China. We anticipate this being an annual event with a different problem statement each year.
The information received during the events is captured by our team of experts and forms the basis of our UTM framework which will be published online in the near future.
Other activities at ICAO include the online UAS Toolkit (the UTM framework will be collocated) that contains extensive information for regulators getting started as well as for operators. https://www.icao.int/safety/UA/UASToolkit