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The process of creating U-space airspaces in Europe with EASA’s Drones Programme Manager Maria Algar Ruiz

Maria Algar Ruiz, the Drones Programme Manager from EASA sat down to speak with Eszter Kovacs, Co-Founder and CEO of DroneTalks, about how the U-space framework for Europe was developed and the thought process that went behind it. She started the interview by giving a brief introduction to how the U-space regulations were born in Amsterdam in 2018, which brings her full circle to today where she spoke with us about how these regulations have changed over the years since their inception. 

The framework for the U-space regulations has since helped to empower the flourishing of a new community of aviation stakeholders. EASA currently helps to facilitate the collaboration between the new stakeholders in this community through several initiatives. One of these initiatives was to create a task force to empower single Common Information Service (CIS) providers and U-space service providers (USSPs) with the various European member states as they attempt to harmonise the certification approach for the whole European Union.

Currently, there are 22 active European Union member states in this task force that meets every 3 months to develop methods for enabling the creation of new U-space airspaces. The goal is to empower innovation while also ensuring that each new U-space is affordable and can provide a high level of safety to the communities they’re created in. 

The European Commission was, at the time, the one who began to establish a network. But, with the Drone Strategy 2.0, it was confirmed that this newly established network was also needed to go from the development phase to the implementation phase for U-space airspaces. This is an amazing opportunity for drone industry stakeholders as well since they’re able to share their experiences and learn from each other as the drone industry ecosystem provides a platform to build the future together. 

Maria also told us that EASA invites industry stakeholders to events like her workshop this Wednesday (22/03/2023) at Amsterdam Drone Week called “Lessons learned of initial U-Space airspace designations and first SSP and single CISP certification projects”. These events enable industry-wide co-creation by bringing an informal group of industry stakeholders together. The workshops are aimed at providing a platform for organisations to begin sharing experiences and learn from one another to understand what has worked or not worked in the past, so we can shift gears and focus on how to move the industry forward. 

She also hinted that there would be new initiatives started soon along with a series of workshops and webinars that will list more of the details on new and upcoming regulations. Because of how young the industry currently is, these regulations are also incredibly important and very much necessary. Still, even with new regulations in place, there are a number of challenges that we will face in the future. 

One of these challenges is the upcoming wave of digitisation that will impact all aspects of the creation of new U-spaces. This changes the former concept in traditional aviation where stakeholders used to learn while doing, which helped to establish the baseline rules that we’re now currently improving on. The drone industry, however, doesn’t have this luxury and will need to learn quickly, so what took traditional aviation 50 years to establish is being expected of the drone industry in a matter of months. 

The concept is completely new, and it’s one of the biggest challenges the industry will face, explained Maria. To accomplish this task, the goal is to have all stakeholders (both private industry and public authorities and regulators) work together to define and improve new processes as a community. Together, we can work to push forward the idea of open airspace that is balanced between large and small players and is still capable of providing high levels of safety and security to the communities they’re located in. 

About Maria Algar Ruiz

Maria Algar Ruiz holds the position of EASA Drone Program Manager at EASA. She earned her Master's degree in Aerospace Engineering from ETSIA in Madrid and ENSICA in Toulouse, followed by a postgraduate Master's degree in Fluid Dynamics at the Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics in Belgium. Maria began her career at ITP in Spain, contributing to the development of the EJ200 engines for Eurofighter aircraft. Subsequently, she served as a project engineer at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva.

Maria then joined Airbus as a propulsion systems specialist in the Customer Support Engineering division. She later joined the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) as a technical assistant to the Operations Director. In 2006, she became a Rulemaking Officer for aircraft operations and CNS aspects at EASA. By 2008, Maria had transitioned to the ATM/ANS department within the Flight Standards Directorate.
She has held various roles at EASA, such as EASA SESAR Coordinator, acting Section Manager of the ATM/ANS Regulations Section, and UTM-SESAR Coordinator at EASA's Innovation Cell within the Executive Directorate. Since early 2019, Maria has been leading the EASA Drones Programme as its manager within the Executive Directorate, reporting directly to the EASA Executive Director.

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