U-Space to become law in Europe in 2023. Enabler of complex UAS missions like medical drone delivery
The U-Space regulatory package was approved by EASA members and is on the agenda for approval by the European Commission in April.
The U-Space framework intends to create the conditions for manned and unmanned aircraft to operate safely in controlled and uncontrolled airspace where U-Services will be provided. The ultimate objective is to prevent collisions between manned and unmanned aircraft and mitigate the air and ground risks.
Enabler to longer distance UAS operations such as medical drone delivery, survey & mapping, UAS search & rescue missions ...
It paves the way for developing access to airspace for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, alias aerial drones or UAS, to carry out longer-distance and/or more complex operations in low-level airspace (below 120m or 400ft), and including in congested areas. i.e. cities. Such UAS operations would include Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations, for example medical drone delivery services, linear infrastructure inspections, maritime surveillance, parks and wildlife monitoring, 3D mapping of construction sites, digital twins in survey & mapping, search & rescue UAS missions...
At The Drone Office, we have a vested interest in seeing it happen, as we are consortium member of AiResponse, a “Drones Solutions for Covid-19” research project led by Intelsius and funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Industrial Strategy Challenge |Fund, and CAELUS, led by AGS Airports, also funded by UK Research and Innovation ISCF as a Future Flight Challenge Strand 2 project.
Addressing the “Detect and Avoid” Challenge for UAS
In manned aviation, a number of protocols are in place, referred to as the rules of the Air, to ensure the safe sharing of airspace by all airspace users. As a last resort to avoid incidents, the pilot onboard detects other airspace users and avoids the collision. In the case of Unmanned aircraft, the remote pilot can “Detect and Avoid” as long as he/she keeps the aircraft within his/her visual line of sight, but not beyond. Beyond, the equivalent of Detect and Avoid will be performed thanks to a set of technologies and communications links onboard the aircraft and on the ground. U-Space is part of that journey.
A U-Space is a defined volume of airspace where:
all aircrafts must broadcast their identification and position so that the system can create a real-time map of all aircrafts in the U-Space, and
U-Space services (see below) are provided so that de-confliction is performed and collisions are avoided. These services will be provided by the USSPs, the U-Space Service Providers.
Impact on other airspace users including General Aviation and stakeholders’ engagement
In practice, it means that other airspace users will have to be equipped with new communication devices, and adapt to the evolution in the safety framework if they want to fly within U-Spaces. This evolution would apply in particular to General Aviation that typically flies within uncontrolled airspace.
General Aviation is defined by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as "all civil aviation operations other than scheduled air services and non-scheduled air transport operations for remuneration or hire". The category also is sometimes called general aviation and aerial work (GA/AW). GA would include: On-demand activities including Air-taxi (less than 19 passengers) and Business Aviation; Corporate aviation; Aerial work; Leisure flights including aerial sport; Training flights. ~60% of GA flying hours in Europe are related to commercial activities.
Impact on General Aviation in the Impact analysis performed by EASA is the only criteria scoring (modestly) negative in case of U-Space implementation: when flying in a U-Space airspace, General Aviation will be required to provide their positions to the U-Space Service Provider USSP at regular intervals, and be equipped to do so. However, several factors mitigate this impact: the required equipment are now available at reasonable costs; U-Spaces will be set-up only where necessary so that the impact will be limited to certain circumstances (flying in very low-level airspace, around airports or within urban environment); other airspace users can prefer to opt-out of conspicuity and not enter U-Spaces; the initiative supports the overall safety improvement of GA. No doubt stakeholders’ engagement and discussion will continue to take place to ensure a smooth implementation and convergence in technology roadmaps.
The U-Space framework and Services
The pre-requisite to a functioning service is a set of a Common Information Services, i.e. the provision of the necessary information, starting with maps provided by trusted sources with the reliability, quality, integrity, accuracy and security such that the U-Space Service Providers USSPs, as well as the existing Air Navigation Service Providers ANSPs, can rely on to provide their services. The organisation providing the Common Information Services in a specific U-Space has a monopoly situation, cannot be a USSP. USSP will be certified by the competent authorities.
The 4 mandatory U-Space services are:
Network identification Service: UAS and other aircraft operating in the U-Space must be equipped with transponders or communication devices so that they broadcast at regular intervals their identification, location and flightpath details. As a result, the U-Space service provider, USSP, can establish a real-time map of airspace users in the targeted volume of airspace and make that information available.
Geo-awareness service: the USSP provides information about the latest airspace constraints and defined UAS geographical zones information made available as part of the common information services , i.e. a map updated in real-time of the no fly zones with the level of accuracy for which it has been certified
Flight Authorisation Service: it is a mandatory requirement, in uncontrolled and controlled airspace, that the UAS operator provides a description of its flightpath and obtain approval prior to fly from the USSP, as part of a strategic, or pre-flight, deconfliction approach.
Traffic Information Service: the USSP provides to UAS operators the air traffic information from other UAS as well as from manned aviation, and provides situation awareness and alerts in case of potential conflicts.
For more information, please read EASA Opinion No 01/2020.
In the United Kingdom: Open Access UTM
A similar approach is on its way with the Open Access UTM framework initiative as outlined by Chris Gee during the Connected Places Catapult’s Pathfinder webinar on 31st of March 2021. Electronic conspicuity is not yet a legal requirement in the UK, but multiple pragmatic tests and field trials are ongoing, nurturing several UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management or U-Space) technology champions.