Integrating drones into controlled airspace

22 August 2018

There are many, many challenges in developing an ATM system which can handle low-level urban drone operations, high-flying military remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) and the traditional mix of airlines, military, business and private aircraft.

The Single European Sky ATM Research Joint Undertaking (SJU) has developed a blueprint for low-level drone use safe, secure and environmentally friendly: U-Space. It is being developed in parallel with long-standing work to integrate military RPAS into civil airspace.

U-Space has three principles: it should be safe, automated and ready for operation by 2019 for services like registration, e-identification and geo-fencing.

A key challenge for drone operators is to establish trust with manned aviation stakeholders – airspace users, air navigation service providers, airports, pilots and controllers – who are often still in resistance mode when it comes to sharing airspace,” observed Philippe Merlo, EUROCONTROL’s Director for European Civil and Military Aviation.

How should Europe develop its own UAS air traffic management system – UTM?

We have blueprints and concept documents but no-one knows yet how it will all work technically and institutionally.

EUROCONTROL has been a pivotal player for many years in developing European and global concepts and providing support to regulations for integrating manned and unmanned air vehicles. We are now on our fifth version of a concept of operations for UAS ATM integration.

Considerable challenges remain. Here are just a few:

  • there are areas of airspace where civil and military radars can interfere with the communications link between pilot and drone
  • solar panels create areas of interference
  • 4.5G telecommunications services – used by some UTM developers as the backbone communications network – might have latency issues when a message can take up to six seconds to be received
  • operating on Wi-Fi signals works now but there might not be enough bandwidth in the future.

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