How real time simulation can help integrate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems into busy airspace

14 June 2016

The safe integration of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) into busy airspace is a hot topic in ATM. The impact that a set of aircraft with different performance characteristics may have on safety, capacity and ATCOs’ workloads still needs to be carefully assessed. One method of validating this impact is through real time simulation (RTS).

On 24-25 May 2016, a small scale RTS successfully demonstrated that EUROCONTROL’s Experimental Centre is now capable of conducting realistic simulations that include RPAS. Three generic en route sectors were simulated, involving three en route controllers, 40 minute traffic samples with 52 civil aircraft and three to four RPAS.

The Experimental Centre’s Base of Aircraft Data (BADA) team prepared for the simulation by developing four different RPAS models. These models were made available to world-wide BADA Users in December 2015. They were built by gathering available performance data and constructing profiles for each phase of flight.

The critical enabler for any aircraft model development is availability of aircraft performance reference data. For RPAS, this information is scanty. Two RPAS models were created in collaboration with the Technical University of Catalonia. Researchers there shared reference data originating from RPAS flight recordings as well as know-how on RPAS behaviour. The BADA team generated two other RPAS models, based on publically available information on RPAS performance.

Of prime interest to ATC is the safe integration of RPAS which have far slower cruise, climb and descent speeds than conventional flights do. Thanks to the development of representative models in the BADA database, realistic scenarios could be prepared to assess the implications of differing sets of flight performance in busy airspace.

The demonstration tested a number of events which could occur when integrating RPAS into en-route airspace:

  • slow climb and descent;
  • variable communication delay;
  • link failure;
  • communication failure;
  • the impact of strong winds;
  • navigational errors.

The demonstration highlighted a number of areas ripe for further development. These include ATC procedures, ATCO working methods, system enhancements and the need for more RPAS models in BADA.

EUROCONTROL’s Experimental Centre will be at the forefront of these improvements, collaborating with teams working in the rest of EUROCONTROL and on SESAR 2020 projects.

Related news