Europe has the capacity to lead.
The 6th European Civil RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft system, eg drone) Operators & Operations Forum took place on 16-17 January 2018 in Paris, France and was hosted this year by the DGAC (Direction Générale de l’Aviation Civile). The conference was organized by Blyenburgh, France, under the auspices of UVS International, and we can only respect their capacity to gather such a broad, diverse and very international community and their ability to facilitate a lively transparent dialogue. Experts from several national and international aviation authorities and national air traffic services organizations such as DGAC, NATS, but also the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), European Commission, EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency), SESAR JU, JARUS and Eurocontrol, shared their achievements, objectives and roadmaps. A number of similarities emerged, and if experts in Europe may not agree on everything, they certainly could converge on many things.
A convergence towards an international regulatory framework is key and desired by all stakeholders, but it takes time. Europe beats a proactive tempo while making no compromise on safety. The EU has set-up several milestones for U-Space, a highly-automated drone traffic management system, with a first milestone to be achieved by 2019. This puts Europe at least at par with other leading drone ecosystems such as the USA.
Behind the regulatory framework are economic stakes concerning global leadership over future key technologies.
RPAS or drones are part of the digitization and automated / autonomous systems transformations. These disruptive technological advances will be shaping (part of) our future. They may offer significant economic growth and are already part of the global competition between economies. Europe, China and the USA are investing. However, Europe certainly has the capacity to lead and set the tempo.
Authorities are confronted with the difficult dilemma to strike the right balance the following challenges:
- Non-regulating or over-regulating will cause the multiplication of illegal flights in insufficiently safe operations causing safety risks.
- Broadly authorizing drone flights challenge is to be unable to cope with such growth and to lack sufficient resources, hence causing safety risks.
- Waiting for an international regulation challenge is to miss the boat in terms of setting up a flourishing national industry.
- Going ahead nationally will result in the industry investing in technologies and solutions that may not fully comply with the international standards once they are defined.
Most RPAS / drone regulatory frameworks in place or being contemplated rely on several pillars developed in parallel, in an approach consistent with manned aviation, but adapted to RPAS:
- Developing scenarios where flying is specifically authorized or specifically banned, an incremental approach adopted in many countries, in conjunction with a set of penalties and fines for law infringement.
- Developing U-Space / UTM / RPAS Traffic Management. The SESAR JU (Single European Sky ATM Research Joint Undertaking) published its U-Space Blueprint in June 2017: “It sets out the vision for the U-space, which aims to enable complex drone operations with a high degree of automation to happen in all types of operational environments, particularly in an urban context. When fully deployed, a wide range of drone missions that are currently being restricted will be possible thanks to a sustainable and robust European ecosystem that is globally interoperable.” The first call for a Very Large Demonstration is ongoing and several additional calls will be launched early 2018, with an aim to implement the 1st phase of U-Space in 2019.
- Developing Product Safety Standards. In Europe, this objective will be implemented via the C€ marking where EU certification requires meeting detailed product specification including safety. However, the required standards do not exist yet.
- Developing the technologies that support safety standards. The current focus is on registration, e-identification and geo-fencing. We may want to add cybersecurity and connectivity which is a vital part of command & control of the aircraft. These technologies are of course not drone specific and could be developed with a broader application area including all autonomous vehicles/robots/drones.
- Developing Remote Pilot Training requirements. This objective can be achieved with a combination of: specification of the required theoretical and practical training content, specification of the theory exam, qualification of the training centres and the exam centres, the number of minimum flight hours required to take the practical exam, and then maintaining the necessary competence level in order to keep a valid licence.
- Developing Operator qualification and requirements. Remote pilots can work for broader organizations called Operators, similar to a pilot working for an airline.
- DGAC : Direction Générale de l’Aviation Civile
- EASA : European Aviation Safety Agency
- SESAR JU : Single European Sky Air Traffic Control Research Joint Undertaking
- RPAS: Remotely piloted aircraft system
- UAS: Unmanned aircraft system
- U-Space: Highly-automated drone traffic management system developed by The European Union
Reference is made to RPAS CivOps Forum.
For further information please refer to the following sites:
To download the U-Space Blueprint, please follow the link: