Our role in integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into the European aviation network

The Agency has been involved in UAS integration for around 10 years. While this was initially more a technology watch over potential developments, it has become more substantial of late and we now accompany, and significantly contribute to, various, often uncoordinated, initiatives from many stakeholders.  The RPAS industry is poised to play a very important role in the European economy and is a significant source of job opportunities.  ATM integration is critical in realising this potential and the Agency already plays a key role here.

With the uptake of many parallel European and international RPAS activities (Regulatory, Standardisation, Research and Development) and increasing requests to develop regulatory and guidance material to support safe and harmonised integration or to provide assistance on all aspects of ATM, the Agency aims at maintaining the Big Picture on UAS developments, developing relevant guidance material and supporting our Member States.

The focus of UAS integration is channelled through two streams:

  • should be as safe as manned aviation;
  • should not deny access to other airspace users;
  • will have to meet specific airspace requirements;
  • should be transparent to ATC and other airspace users.

In the case of small UAS, the integration of RPAS is based on these principles:

  • they must safely coexist with manned traffic below 500ft;
  • they have to respect privacy and liability aspects;
  • cyber security must be ensured.

Our ATM integration approach

Safety of ATM is the core business of the Agency. The Agency’s work on RPAS will focus primarily on ATM-critical issues related to RPAS integration, but will also consider RPAS improvements and applications which could deliver ATM performance, while monitoring developments and ensuring that the non-ATM issues are properly identified and addressed by the relevant stakeholders in good time.

This ATM approach will further contribute to building a centre of expertise on RPAS, so supporting the development of regulatory, operational and technical provisions. These provisions are needed so as to progressively accommodate and integrate civil and military RPAS into the pan-European ATM environment as a legitimate airspace user.

EUROCONTROL is active in many organisations ensuring the best integration solutions are developed supporting both manned and unmanned traffic. We are involved in the following organsiations:

  • ICAO RPAS Panel
  • Informal drone advisory group
  • TBC

What is the State of play:

State of Play

  1. The present developments are dominated by small RPAS. It is estimated that around 15000 commercial RPAS companies are active within Europe. The regulatory developments are mostly a reaction to the rapid market development and as such are not harmonised. Many RPAS have been sold world-wide estimating at more than 20 million and thereby surpassing the amount of manned aircraft, estimated by ICAO at 200,000.
  2. RPAS are capable of operating in environments more dangerous and closer to obstacles than manned aviation. Also the cost factor plays a significant role. Many applications are to be found in agriculture, security, photo and filming, critical infrastructure inspection, search and rescue and many other areas.
  3. The technical RPAS developments are happening at a much quicker pace that we are used in our conservative manned aviation world. It will be a challenge to marry both worlds to ensure safe and robust integration solutions. Specifically data on the reliability of RPAS are not sufficiently available.
  4. Encouraging is the increase of safety awareness of several RPAS producers introducing new technologies to block entrance of RPAS in no drone zone through geo fencing. Close corporation in this with National authorities is providing promising results.
  5. Many technological solutions are already available however these are not aviation technologies. To allow the use of this will require additional effort from regulators and standards organisation to set the required aviation safety levels.
  6. Although Military and civil RPAS may have totally different operational requirements, the integration challenges are identical. Many military flights are accommodated through FUA/AFUA principles allowing them to operate in controlled airspace as daily occurrence. Application of harmonised ASM procedures will improve the efficiency of the accommodation of requirements for segregation/reservation of airspace.