UAS in civil airspace – a long road ahead

The goal is to fully integrate unmanned air systems (UAS) in a country’s airspace, and consider them like their manned cousins.

This process is very slow – and  a big headache for UAS manufacturers – but in recent months there have been signs that trust in the involved technology is growing, albeit slowly.

Earlier this year some progress was made in Europe in the framework of the DeSIRE project (Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe). The project is funded by the European Space Agency and the European Defence Agency, and led by telecommunications firm Indra.

On 26 April an Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Heron-1 UAS flew for 6h from San Javier airbase, which is co-located with Murcia airport in Spain.

During the flight the UAS operated in both military and civil airspace, while performing a terrestrial and maritime surveillance mission. After climbing to 20,000ft (6,100m), the UAS entered Class-C airspace, with the pilot in the ground station communicating with Spanish air traffic controllers at Barcelona via satellite link.

During the demonstration a manned CASA C-101 of the Spanish air force approached the UAS, simulating frontal and 90-degree collision trajectories.

The pilot of the CASA and the ground operators of the Heron followed separation instructions issued by air traffic control.

Secondary radar data from ATC was available to the pilot of the UAS in the ground control station throughout the flight. The radar on board the UAV was also used to detect surrounding traffic, with the data transmitted to the pilot through the satellite link.

The flight’s aim was to define and test the ATC and operation procedures applicable to a remotely piloted aircraft, and to evaluate the safety of the satellite link and the reaction capacity of the aircraft’s ground pilot, both in routine operations and in emergency situations.

IAI is very involved in the trust-building process, and while accepting it is still a long process, the company is optimistic that things will change.

“It will take another decade and it will be a slow process,” says Shaul Shahar, general manager of IAI’s Malat UAS division.

The process, he says, will involve a lot of on board technology, such as that in the sense-and-avoid category.

He assessed that even in ten years from now UAS integrated in civil airspace will be remotely piloted ones, and not autonomous.

The trust-building in this case will be a very long, twisted process.

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