The European Commission’s future air traffic management initiative has only one-third of the budget required to carry out the full integration of remotely piloted air systems (RPAS) into European airspace, a senior representative has acknowledged.

Speaking at the AUVSI Unmanned Systems conference in Brussels on 3 March, Denis Koehl, senior advisor for military affairs on the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) programme, explains that it is some €110 million ($123 million) short of the required amount for full unmanned air vehicle integration.

The disclosure comes ahead of a commission-sponsored conference on the future of ATM, due to begin on 5 March in Latvia. This is expected to produce decisions on the commitment that the EU will make towards the integration of UAVs into the SESAR programme.

The next phase of the initiative – SESAR 2020 – is due to begin by the end of 2015 and carry on until around 2024, and is the first phase in which unmanned aircraft are being considered. However, in order to incorporate the equivalent of both manned visual flight rules (VFR) and instrument flight rules (IFR), more money is needed.

“I expect a lot from the Riga summit that starts in two days’ time and I hope will have a better idea of the future by the end of this week,” Koehl says.

“Within the next master plan, which we aim to release by the end of this year, there will be an RPAS dimension. At the end of the day this is all about money – that is the big issue that we face, and the cheapest option is not what we want.

“What we propose is to fully integrate RPAS into the aviation system, but we want – and I am convinced that the Commission is aware that we need to have the full package – IFR and VFR. The [total] cost of this is €150 million, which is not that much compared to our US colleagues, who are reportedly spending close to $100 million per year on RPAS integration.”

Koehl says that the current available budget is nearer €40 million, which would only allow for a token amount of work to be carried out.

“If we don’t have the €150 million, I will probably propose to go to an alternate option in the short term. But what is clear to us is that everybody is convinced that we should implement the full package.”

The integration of the full spectrum of UAV activities could be postponed, he cautions, “but this is not my personal wish”.

By the end of April or early in May a call for tenders will be issued to all SESAR members. This will allow them to bid for certain technical and organisational elements of the RPAS section of SESAR 2020, which need to be submitted by July. An assessment of these will be conducted in August, with the programme to be launched in October.