The safe and timely insertion of all kinds of drones in the airspace is a top priority for the Industry. ASD manufacturers have invested in consultations, studies and research initiatives for years through the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU), the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Defence Agency (EDA). Regulations and research initiatives are needed to allow the operations of drones in non-segregated airspace, side by side with “traditional”, manned aircraft. As such, these operations represent a major growth opportunity which also help prepare for more automation in tomorrow’s cockpits. These operations also pose a significant safety and capacity challenge that needs to be addressed.
Today, drones and optionally piloted aircraft are trialled for a number of state and private civil applications such as security, disaster relief, environmental monitoring, etc. but these operations are limited to highly segregated areas. The safe integration of drones into civil airspace will enable safe operation alongside conventional manned aircraft, with drones being handled by the air traffic controllers, just as any other kind of aircraft; the only difference being that the pilot will not be located on board the aircraft.
For manufacturers, this represents an important first step towards exciting use cases where drones could be used for long cross-border flights at all altitudes and with no impact on the capacity of the airspace, which normally would need to be restricted for that specific operation to take place.
Time is the critical factor of drones insertion, as recently evidenced in the SESAR Joint Undertaking ‘European Drones Outlook Study – Unlocking the value for Europe’. With total EU investments in drones technologies being only a fraction of the investments made by the other industrial regions of the world, it is only a matter of time before it will be too late to compensate the delays accumulated until today: it is urgent to boost efforts in Europe to leverage the industrial opportunities offered by drones and preserve the EU leadership in aerospace manufacturing.
The ASD Drones working group and network of experts work very closely with EU and international regulators, research agencies and other stakeholders with the aim to support the industry of large drones. Together, they advocate for:
- A regulation that would allow safe operation of all drones in non-segregated airspace, especially en-route, and the need for standards that would specify the minimum safety requirements to provide a level-playing field to EU manufacturing companies;
- An appropriate involvement of military users (through EDA), who have been operating drones for decades, as well as the recognition of the EU agencies that already play a significant role in enabling these capabilities by pioneering the use of large drones for civil purposes, such as the European Maritime Safety Agency or FRONTEX;
- A continuation, coordination and boost of the Research and Innovation agenda for drones in Europe: SESAR is a success story for Air Traffic Management in Europe that needs to continue for drones, and in particular for the so-called certified category (larger drones) to industrialize the EU solutions that compete with solutions being developed elsewhere in the world.