RPAS become new priority for SESAR

Europe researchers are convinced that unmanned aircraft under pilot control behave no differently compared to small general aviation aircraft when operating in the air traffic control (ATC) environment.

The findings are the result of nine demonstration projects conducted over two years by the SESAR Joint Undertaking which examined how remotely piloted aircraft systems or RPAS could be safely operated within non-segregated airspace using existing technologies.

Even so, the operators, manufacturers, ANSPs and regulatory authorities who came together to conduct the projects identified several technical, operational, safety and security matters which they recommend more attention before integration can be considered.

In terms of obtaining the necessary regulatory approval, the consensus is that the current process remains excessively burdensome and time-consuming.

One solution could be to establish national-specific RPAS test flight zones with simplified procedures to obtain flight permits.

“To ensure legal compliance, an initial package for small RPAS could be defined, comprising a simple and efficient navigation system, a permanent position reporting system and geofencing capabilities,” the report states.

It adds that co-ordination between civil-military authorities, capitalising on the military experience, could reduce research efforts here and help speed the development of an effective regulatory framework.

“For test areas, segregation is a prerequisite until a suitable detect and avoid system is available and accepted by the authorities,” it states, adding that temporary segregated airspace, such as danger areas, would not be sustainable for routine operations, since this approach does not meet the principles of equivalence and transparency.

In addition to the need for a harmonised and well-established civil regulation and certification system, additional areas that need further  attention include:

  • Policies and procedures on how ATC should interact with RPAS to ensure efficient operations and to meet safety-level requirements;
  • A detect & avoid (D&A) capability and compliance with European aircraft equipage requirements;
  • Reliable command and control (C2) links should be developed together with contingency procedures in case of failure and implemented in a protected spectrum band; and
  • Specific training and licensing for RPAS pilots

The report notes that with the update of the European ATM Master Plan in 2015, the integration of RPAS has become a new priority for SESAR and therefore the Single European Sky with a consequent commitment to continued research..

“In the SESAR 2020 Industrial Research programme, RPAS become a new class of airspace user in all concepts so that RPAS issues can be studied alongside those for manned aviation.” it states.

Specific solutions are planned for RPAS collision avoidance, surface management and integration with IFR traffic. In addition, the SESAR JU has launched an exploratory research programme to address VLL RPAS in order to stimulate innovation and development.

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