The challenge of making drones safe

11 September 2018

“Before they can give permission for drones to fly in controlled airspace, air navigation service providers will have to develop safety assessments to show that the safety level is acceptable in their airspace,” says Bruno Rabiller, Safety Team Leader in the Research and Development/ SESAR department at the Experimental Centre.

The challenge of writing airspace safety rules is twofold: firstly, we need rules for drones flying in controlled airspace. Secondly, we have to develop a different but related set of rules for drone operations at very low levels.

Our safety assessment is always done in three axes: operational safety in normal, abnormal and failure conditions.

For normal conditions, we have to know what requirements are needed for making the ATM system robust, taking all categories of drone performance into account – including low-speed and low-climb performance.

Abnormal conditions could include strong crosswinds and other environmental events which could cause trajectory drift, or interference and jamming of signals.

We have to see how drone failures and malfunctions could be mitigated to satisfy safety standards for system integrity, reliability and human-in-the-loop factors.

“We need to identify a means of integrating and concentrating all our risk assessment work into a full understanding of the UAS environment. We are aiming for a very flexible UTM service, configured around UAS operations and taking both safety and cost-benefit issues into account as well.

“The objective is to have a system supported by a high level of digitalisation and automation, one that is very flexible in its architecture and not over-demanding for relatively simple operations,” concluded Bruno Rabiller.

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