If drones reach their maximum potential, then the flying rules for airspace users, the way airspace and services are shaped, have to adapt to integrate these new users, mainly when operated in BVLOS. Up to now, the most frequent airspace users were passenger and cargo transport aircraft, general aviation planes, and we can add air sports enthusiasts like model aircraft, paragliders, and balloon pilots. Currently, we need to open skies and minds for drones and new booming technologies. Marrying innovation to a culture of safety to integrate everyone can be highly demanding as safety is paramount in the airspace, especially when several new entities have a little aviation background. And this is when the European UTM regulatory framework comes with help as well as UTM service providers with their mind-blowing solutions.
From the U-Space blueprint of 2017 to an EU regulatory package
The European Aviation Safety Agency’s Committee for the application of common safety rules in civil aviation approved the above EU U-Space regulatory package on 24 February 2021. It became the primary basis for drones and services in the current and future urban air mobility. This set of rules made it possible to scale up drone operations in low-level airspace and urban areas and encouraged drone businesses to create new opportunities. The regulatory package has entered into force on May 8, 2021, and will become applicable as of 26 January 2023.
New drone law introduced services for drone operators, allowing them for more sophisticated and longer-distance operations, especially in congested, low-level airspace, even beyond visual line of sight. The U-space package introduced and unified the conditions for human-crewed and uncrewed aircraft to operate safely, prevent collisions, and mitigate the ground risk of drone traffic.
The regulation, of course, referred to the two earlier EU delegated and implementing regulations on drones which have established the detailed safety provisions for operations of UAS and minimum technical requirements for them.
The Commission Implementing Regulation on a regulatory framework for a U-space, which together with two other proposed regulations formed “the package”, defines the roles and the responsibilities of the different stakeholders involved in the drone sector.
According to the package, the European Member States are responsible for designating the geographical zones where the drone operations are taking place with the support of U-space services. The Member States are thus competent to decide to which extent their national airspace should be open or restrictive to the drones’ operations.
The ‘U-space service providers’ (USSP)are referred to as organisations certified by the Member State Competent Authority to assure U-space services. They will have to provide – at least – four mandatory U-space services: geo-awareness, traffic information, flight authorisation, and network identification. EASA is indicated as the certifying authority if one USSP wishes to provide service across Europe.
According to the above legislation, drone operators should have equal access to all U-space service providers in Europe. They will have to establish a contract with one selected, certified USSP and ask for their flight authorisation before the estimated take-off time. They will need to hold a certificate and operate by the regulations of the package. Air Navigation Service Providers will have arrangements with USSPs to ensure adequate coordination and exchange of information.
U-space technology should further allow access for the drones to new volumes of airspace like urban, suburban, rural.
The U-space technology and proposed regulation rely on digitalisation and automation functions (e.g., automatic detection of unauthorised drone flights, sharing of information between the different airspace users, online requests of drone flights authorisations). “The U-space is included in the ‘Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy’, presented in December 2020. We learn how the EU transport system can achieve its green and digital transformation from this strategy.
Recently, EASA prepared the technical specifications (Acceptable Means of Compliance/Guidance Material: AMC/GM) included in this NPA to allow the stakeholders and competent authorities to prepare for the implementation of the regulatory package. “We were working at full speed on acceptable means of compliance and guidance material and started already consultation on the draft,” said Maria Algar Ruiz. AMC/GM covers many points of the regulation, from airspace assessments to different types of services and certification of the U-space service providers (USSPs). Maria Algar Ruiz announced that there is a plan to organise webinars and training sessions with stakeholders to discuss more demanding parts of the regulation: indeed, a workshop is scheduled for February 15, 2022
Participation of all people interested in U-space is recommended. Comments of the NPA 2021-14 are to be sent before March 15, 2022, and you are encouraged to comment. The workshop is positioned to allow getting a good understanding of the issues and at the same time having still time to comment.
This Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) aims to maintain a high level of safety for uncrewed and human-crewed aircraft operations in the U-space airspace. This NPA proposes acceptable means of compliance (AMC) and guidance material (GM) to the U-space regulatory package (Regulations (EU) 2021/664, (EU) 2021/665 and (EU) 2021/666).
The Executive Summary of the NPA highlights the necessary means for the implementation of the Regulations mentioned above as regards:
This proposal is expected to help maintain safety regarding operations of uncrewed and human-crewed aircraft in the U-space airspace and improve harmonisation among the Member States regarding the provision of U-space services.
For part 3, come back to the DroneTalks page soon. If you find our article useful, share it on your social media channels or leave us a comment.
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Joanna is DroneTalks senior business development manager. She has been supporting aviation companies in legal and public relations aspects for 17 years now. She has worked for leading air carriers on the European market and for many global aviation entities - manned and unmanned. She has unique experience in representing companies before the Civil Aviation Authority and in working with Air Navigation Service Providers. With regard to aviation sector entities, she specializes in antitrust law, intellectual property law, environmental protection issues (including aviation noise), as well as new technology and personal data protection. She is the author of the social campaign concerning digitization and integration of manned aviation with drones, carried out at Warsaw’s Chopin Airport, which was partnered by the Ministry of Digitization and 20 companies from the drone sector. She has been organizing many conferences and webinars devoted to drones and to the airline business.
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