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In 2019, U-space will register UAVs and UAV operators, their e-identification, and geo-fencing, with the goal of ultimately leveraging the full economic potential of UAVs (Image source: skyguide).

EU to deploy UAV traffic management system by 2019

The Geneva-based body that navigates international air services for Switzerland and certain bordering countries, skyguide, joined forces with AirMap unmanned traffic management (UTM) to develop and deploy Europe’s premier national drone traffic management system. The endeavor will be the first national deployment of Europe’s vision for the digital infrastructure to support safe and secure access to European skies for millions of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in an effort called U-space.

In response to a request by the European Commission, in 2017 the body responsible for developing the new generation European air traffic management system called the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research Joint Undertaking rolled out U-space to support safe, efficient, and secure access to low-level airspace of up to 150 meters for large numbers of UAVs. The effort will validate the new technologies for the surveillance of unmanned aerial system (UAS) traffic.

Much like NASA’s UAS Traffic Management system to develop airspace integration requirements for enabling safe, efficient low-altitude operations, U-space is a collaborative effort to enable situational awareness, data exchange, and digital communication. Prior to U-space, European rules only covered UAVs weighing above 150 kilograms. The framework now allows the facilitation of any routine mission, in all classes of airspace and all environments, while addressing an appropriate interface with manned aviation and air traffic control. Creating a surveillance system centralizes information of real-time tracking and the display of both cooperative UAVs transmitting their location and non-cooperative UAVs tracked by an external system.

During the pilot phase starting in June, skyguide and AirMap will integrate the AirMap UTM with skyguide’s infrastructure and introduce automated flight authorization in a single airspace environment. AirMap’s UTM prevents collisions between manned aircraft and UAVs, and gives a detailed picture of power lines, building heights, microscale weather, and even times and locations of community gatherings.

The UTM platform is currently the largest network of UAV operators, manufacturers, and airspace managers in the UAV ecosystem, reaching more than 85 percent of the world’s UAVs.

Swiss U-space will ensure that all categories of UAVs and all types of missions can safely take flight in Switzerland’s airspace, from Blockchain-based registration for users and UAVs to dynamic geofencing and instant digital airspace authorization. Those features will also include real-time traffic alerts for UAV pilots and live UAV telemetry for airspace managers, connectivity and communication between UAV pilots and airspace administrators, and other services to enable simultaneous flights in shared airspace.

The partnership is developing a roadmap for Swiss U-space to deploy this fully operational UAV traffic management system next year. As promised by the European Commission, in 2019 U-space will register UAVs and UAV operators, their e-identification, and geo-fencing, with the goal of ultimately leveraging the full economic potential of UAVs.

Driving the U-space initiative is a steadily increasing demand for UAV services across the globe, with the potential to generate significant economic growth and as well as societal benefits. "Drones mean innovation, new services for citizens, new business models, and a huge potential for economic growth,” said EU Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc in a statement released by the EU Commission. “The EU needs to take a leading role worldwide in developing the right framework for this market to flourish, by unleashing the benefits for key economic sectors."

Swiss U-space will also be a catalyst for Switzerland’s UAV economy. Since 2013, UAV flight requests at skyguide have multiplied tenfold. Switzerland is home to a thriving community of UAV companies and the world’s first autonomous UAV delivery network, located in Zürich.

“The establishment of a U-space is the key to improve drone operations’ safety and to satisfy the security and privacy concerns of our citizens. In order to achieve these objectives, a seamless cooperation between all the partners involved is crucial. I am glad to see that a further important step to tackle this challenge was taken today.” said Christian Hegner, Director General of Switzerland’s Federal Office of Civil Aviation.

The partnership follows the success of skyguide’s 2017 Swiss U-space trial, the first live demonstration of sophisticated U-space services in Europe. Together, skyguide, AirMap, and SITAONAIR exhibited fully operational U-space capabilities—including registration and identification, geofencing, and flight authorization—during live UAV missions performed by senseFly and PX4 in Geneva.

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