European thinking on drone integration advances

New drone technology solutions such as detect and avoid will benefit the world of manned aviation, eventually replacing or at least complementing the ‘see and avoid’ principle on which today’s aviation safety is based, according to a European aviation safety chief.

Speaking at a two-day workshop on remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS) earlier this month, Eurocontrol director general Frank Brenner said: “The integrated CNS solutions that are and will be used in the RPAS world will certainly find their way into the cockpits of our transport aircraft.”

The main objective of the workshop was to establish a common picture of the current European integration status of RPAS operations below 500 feet as the European concept of U-Space takes shape. Current operations are mostly visual line of sight (VLOS) while several states have started beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations under certain conditions.

Brenner highlighted in his introduction that ‘solutions have to be found to ensure that this new industry can grow to its full potential while ensuring at the same time that safety is not compromised’.

The workshop started with the European institutions’ perspective. For DG MOVE at the European Commission, represented by Vincente de Frutos, the main objective is to deliver an EU drone ecosystem by 2019. De Frutos noted that Brussels will help ‘to develop a system which is fully automated and can operate in a dense environment, considering single operators for multiple drones and ensuring that safety, security, privacy and environmental concerns are covered and that this legislation is future-proof’.

Natale di Rubbo from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), stressed the need to have an accurate picture of the airspace situation, with the drone operators on the one hand, who will be able to separate from other drones – autonomous or otherwise – and traditional airspace users, on the other. “We need to go beyond the visual line of sight. We see this [workshop] as a forum where we can set the stage for the essential requirements that will make it possible to govern the future air traffic management system”.

Alain Siebert from the SESAR Joint Undertaking also noted that “a clear vision and roadmap on how we safely integrate drones into the airspace” is essential. Budget is also emerging at the heart of the debate as this innovative technology will involve costs.

Eduardo Garcia from the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) stressed that the industry needs to fully understand the business models and the technology behind it and that air navigation service providers could potentially use UTM technologies to foster the future of air traffic management.

Several states provided an insight into how they are handling the integration challenges. Andrew Sage at UK provider NATS advised that the first step should be education and awareness, adding that NATS is working closely with the UK CAA to spread the message to a new population of hobbyists and users, through consumer apps, retailers and public campaigns.

From the airspace user perspective, a UTM system is required. As underlined by Colonel Alban Galabert, from French DSAE, civil-military coordination is essential at national level, whereas at European level, state aviation issues and national security concerns have to be taken into consideration.

According to Felix Gottwald, from the European Cockpit Association: “any future UTM system should be centred around the needs of its human operators by providing an automated setting that enables a human-in-the-loop system supporting the user as much as possible”.

In conclusion, Philippe Merlo, director of ATM at Eurocontrol, said the workshop represented the first foundations of a joint European Action Plan, despite the industry being at the early stages of full automation transformation, adding that European cross-border solutions with open standards are needed.

Here, Eurocontrol has been contributing to the RPAS integration effort by developing the ATM RPAS CONOPS, together with ICAO, JARUS, EUROCAE and EC task forces.

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