Lorenzo Murzilli, Programme Manager and co-leader of the Innovation and Digitalization Unit at the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA)
How is the Swiss U-Space Implementation (SUSI) programme progressing?
Progress has been steady and fast. There have been different focus areas at different times. At the beginning, the main focus was on growing the members’ list to get to a critical mass that will allow us to do meaningful things. We achieved that rather quickly and now have a good mix of international companies.
Phase two was to score some successes and to get people working together. We achieved that first with the ConOps (https://www.unmannedairspace.info/latest-news-and-information/switzerland-finalises-concept-of-operations-for-the-introduction-of-utm-services/) and to have all of those companies agreeing on the same architecture was not easy.
Then last year’s Remote Identification (Remote ID) demonstration cemented the team. At the start of this year we began phase three, which was to step up our communication efforts. Amongst other things, the creation of a new website, a campaign on social media and a visual identity, other communication projects will follow later on. Now we are ready to start on some more difficult challenges.
We will soon be going live in Switzerland and be ready to implement the Remote ID service we demonstrated last year at a nationwide level. It has so far been experimental and voluntary-based but we want to see it working properly nationwide.
Do you have a planned date for introducing a Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC)?
I think LAANC will go live this fall. Initially it will be provided by skyguide as the company manages the airspace around the airports where it will be introduced. The architecture and the legal system is ready and if there is a market for it then all the providers could then connect with it as they do in the USA.
How close is it to the US system?
The two countries have different laws and legal systems. The USA has a head start and a great deal of knowledge in this area, which is why we tend to draw inspiration from their work. Our legal team and skyguide’s legal team have been working for the past six months to find out the best solution to this problem, which I think we have now found.
Training and safety assessments are going on right now to make sure that the system can be used safety and the controllers are trained for its use and know what to do with the information when it is provided. Therefore, there is a huge effort going on in the background.
What will be the impact on SUSI development of the agreement between the US and Switzerland to harmonise drone safety standards?
FOCA will actively collaborate with the FAA on the implementation of standards. For instance, SUSI will benefit from the FAA’s UTM Pilot Programs and the FAA will gain access to the lessons learned from SUSI, for instance in the implementation of Networked Remote ID. The same is true for safety standards, such as ASTM F3322-18 “Standard Specification for Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) Parachutes” which both authorities are using to authorize operations.
Would you like to see other European countries adopt the same kind of architecture?
We are gathering the facts, we are experimenting and building what we think makes sense. And then we will learn the hard lessons. We believe there is no reason why the system as it has been built cannot be fully adopted by everybody else.
This system seems to work well in the USA but we still need to make lessons learned and make the most of it. This is why we are working with other European countries, closely following the American results. I am very positive about this.
One of the unknowns is the role of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in deciding some of this architecture. Do you think that what you’re doing here will be entirely compatible with EASA’s overall philosophy for sharing data, for developing U-space in Europe?
I think EASA’s opinion in its original form was a good start. We have had some differences which we highlighted in our updated ConOps, version 1.1. I am pretty confident that the opinion will be modified – not necessarily to cover all of the differences between EASA’s view and our latest ConOps but I think there is some level of consensus around some of the changes that may be needed to make this architecture more compatible with the efforts currently under way.
What we want to say is:”This is what we have built, it’s working and there is no reason to do anything differently; no safety reason, no architectural reason to be more prescriptive.” We want to prove this to EASA and other European states.
You are using ASTM standards – do you think these will be incorporated into European standards-developing activities for UTM underway by organisations such as ASD STAN for example?
For some zones we are fully aligned with European standards, for registration, for example, where we use the EASA concept. For remote ID we are using the ASTM standard. I’m happy to use whatever standard available but at the moment the ASTM remote ID standard seems to be the one that is working. However, you could do it differently if there was another appropriate standard. The underlying issue is the Discovery and Synchronization Service (DSS) service, because that’s unique and there are no standards for this. This is the underlying platform on top of which you can build multiple services.
We are building this platform for remote ID but it is taking time, effort and money. Once we have finished we will be able to use this single system for strategic de-confliction and other services. We build it once, but we will be able to use it for ten services, which will result in significant savings.
When will I be able to use the SUSI system to file a flight plan for a beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight, get authorisation and then fly it in the same way as you would a manned aircraft?
At the start of 2021 you will be able to use apps to register your aircraft and to file a flight plan if that is needed. At the moment we don’t require a flight plan. But if you want to use LAANC to file a plan to fly in controlled airspace, skyguide will need to approve your flight. You will be able to do that and choose to subscribe to a remote ID service provider to be identifiable on the network. That would not give you an automatic approval because if you’re flying BVLOS you will still need to have a SORA approval. That’s not automatic at the moment and it will not be for some time.
So registration, certification, rule awareness, geo-zones and remote ID is in the pipeline for 2021.
Is the flight information management system (FIMS) now fully operational?
Have you decided what safety critical data is being shared by U-space service providers (USSPs) within the FIMS?
The USSPs right now are not providing safety critical information – that will come in phase two when we start doing strategic de-confliction, for example. At the moment we are managing remote ID but we don’t see that as a safety critical product.
Initially, our ANSP was thinking of supplying the FIMS with a lot of information but when we started looking at the costs and needs we realised this was not needed.
So what’s in the FIMs right now?
First, airspace information: airspace and ground control information, facility maps for landing areas, NOTAMs. As soon as a facility map is available for a given airport, that will be available on the FIMS. It provides airport runway shape data, so that the USSP know exactly where the runways are. And all the coordinates for airports and heliports – all in a digital format. It can also make third party data available – such as runway information from the Swiss FOCA. And it provides a full picture of the traffic being monitored by the ANSP.
And if I wanted at some stage to add weather for example, I could do that.
Weather will be provided through a supplemental service data provider (SDSP) so that won’t be available through the FIMS. The FIMS is being developed with the ANSP and the ANSP is not mandated to do whatever it wants. The FIMs processes a minimum and the maximum number of legally-binding services; everything else is commercial.
Is the FIMs being used operationally by AirMap at the moment?
Yes. USSPs have to sign a legal agreement to access the FIMS and this document has been signed by several USSPs, with more to come. After signing the agreement, they can simply connect and use it.
How many USSPs are using it operationally at the moment?
Six or seven have signed the agreement but more are coming. Other USSPs are still building their apps. We build the framework for them to operate but then it’s up to them to take part, or not.
So can they use this to make money or is that not allowed?
It can be used to make money, yes. It’s part of the agreement – but I cannot share all the details. It is not a complex agreement but it is comprehensive and describes obligations and rights as far as the data is concerned and how the data can be used.
But if they want to add their own data to the service which they provide to operators, can they can do that?
So they’re going to compete on providing an overall service of which FIMS data will be a part?
Yes. The data that FIMS provides is the responsibility of skyguide so it would not make sense for somebody else to start providing traffic information because that information already exists and is fully developed. The mandate given to skyguide is to simply make that available to USSPs. What USSPs do with that data is really part of their business models.
They could offer strategic de-confliction or the option to see the traffic when the drone is in the air. It’s completely up to them how they want to package services they provide. For us, the important thing is that we want to make sure the ANSP provided the information so there would be no ambiguity when it comes to airspace data.
How is anybody going to make money out of this?
We don’t know. But I think there are two different models of U-space economics. In one model you are a drone operator who needs a U-space service to operate. By vertically integrating this function into your business model U-space becomes just another cost. This is the model I imagine being adopted by Wing, for example, where they’re building an application for managing their fleet that contains a U-space element.
The other model is to see U-space as a stand-alone service so when you build your app you can offer it to multiple operators, on a revenue-generating basis or not.
If you look at Switzerland, I’m not seeing here a large market that can sustain hundreds of USSPs. That’s clearly not the case. But U-space is not local – there’s not going to be a Swiss-only U-space. Wing’s market is the world.
From a government point of view, my priority is to create the legal framework for this market to be possible. If Wing, Amazon or Uber or anybody else wants to come to Switzerland they shouldn’t have to deal with a monopolistic provider charging thousands of Swiss francs a day. I want them to find a system, which is fully interoperable, globally harmonised, using standards that everybody else uses. Almost plug and play.
Are you offering SUSI to the general aviation (GA) community?
At the moment, we are at very early stage so it’s not yet clear whether it will be fully available to general aviation operators. During the next phase, we will start to have a conversation about what might useful to them and how we could make it available.
There is already quite a lot of pressure to use remote ID as a sort of tactical de-confliction tool, to install the remote ID app on an aircraft so pilots will be able to see drones flying around and avoid them. Nevertheless, I would not encourage anyone to do that because the standard doesn’t support the required level of safety, in terms of accuracy, for this.
But when it comes to strategic de-confliction, flight plan sharing, conformance monitoring, I can see a lot of potential in that. The system is tactical, not strategic.
We would like to include the aviation community most affected by drone operations in the programme – the people who fly at low altitude, such as the police, rescue helicopters and crop sprayers. Switzerland authorises crop spraying by drone, which, in parallel, is also done by helicopters. They don’t share the same fields but they are doing complementary operations in similar locations so being aware of each other could be very advantageous to them both. That’s where we want to start expanding.
How do you see your relationship with USSPs and mobile network operators (MNOs) expanding?
The relationships between the different parties within SUSI are covered by a memorandum of cooperation. When it comes to the specific services that are being developed that’s one of the primary lessons we are learning as we implement remote ID. The government must allow this to happen seamlessly. If I have multiple USSPs trying to provide remote ID via the DSS platform the USSPs have to talk to each other as well as the drone operators. All these different actors need to be managed and regulated by service level agreements. With 15 USSPs, the number of service level agreements you’re going to have to sign starts to become enormous and every time a new player enters or exits the network everything changes.
So SUSI programme managers have asked the government to act as a mediator and this is what we have been doing over the last few months, creating the necessary contract documents for everyone to sign and join in. This has been centralised and unified.
It is managed by us and we define the roles especially when it comes to oversight; the Swiss FOCA has to be involved in case we need to remove a licence. All these relationships are currently being defined, the documents are being written and in circulation for signatures. I think this is really ground breaking work.
Can a mobile network operator be a SUSI USSP?
Absolutely yes. Swisscom is a partner in SUSI and the company has recently launched a drone initiative that will provide several services to the drone community, including U-space management, integrating customer missions into the U-space system as we are building it. As an MNO they can offer connectivity. We’re still exploring this from an organisational point of view. What kind of connectivity is needed to do what? GUTMA and GSMA is working on these issues within the Aerial Connectivity Joint Activity (ACJA). From a SUSI perspective, we are very happy to have Swisscom on board – they are very active and will be able to offer their services as a USSP.