Eurocontrol has just published the world’s first standards for operating military unmanned air vehicles (UAV) in civil airspace. Essentially, to be allowed out of the “segregated airspace” areas in which their current operation is confined, UAVs will have to meet the same requirements as manned aircraft in their ability to interact with air traffic control (ATC) and conduct their own “sense and avoid” manoeuvres to maintain separation – the equivalent of “see-and-avoid” for manned aircraft.

Today, Eurocontrol’s UAV-Operational Air Traffic (OAT) task force has released its conclusions about the requirements that military UAVs must meet to be allowed to operate in civil airspace in a document entitled “Specifications for the use of military unmanned aerial vehicles as OAT outside segregated airspace”.

The document makes it clear that the UAVs’ ability to maintain separation from other traffic must at least equal the standards that apply to conventional manned aircraft before they will be allowed outside “segregated airspace”, and that they should be able to apply the same rights of way according to the rules of the air.

Although manufacturers and operators in the burgeoning UAV sector are unlikely to find any major surprises in the specifications, the report’s significance is that the goalposts have now been fixed.

Mike Strong, chairman of the UAV/OAT Task Force at Eurocontrol, says that although it was not in his remit to set standards for civil UAVs, he would be surprised if civil specifications are not eventually based on these guidelines.

He says that it was decided not to make these specifications mandatory because it may have been impossible to get complete agreement across all the 38 Eurocontrol member states if the specifications were to be classified as compulsory regulations, and because the military is not subject to civil regulation.

Strong explains: “Although the specifications are not mandatory, we hope that a substantial number of states will choose to incorporate them into their national regulations. If they do so, it will be a significant contribution toward harmonising air traffic management for military UAVs outside segregated airspace – something which is not the case at present.”

The need for a clear set of  specifications was set out by military chiefs of staff in 2003, when they made clear that “there is a pressing operational requirement to migrate military UAVs outside the confines of segregated airspace”, and they agreed Eurocontrol should lead the task force to work out how this could be done.

The report says: “These high-level, generic specifications have been drafted by the UAV-OAT Task Force. They require that UAV operations should not increase the risk to other airspace users; that ATM procedures should mirror those applicable to manned aircraft; and that the provision of air traffic services to UAVs should be transparent to air traffic controllers. Moreover, they are not constrained by limitations in current UAV capability.”

The guidelines explain that this implies acceptance of the fact that UAV capabilities have not yet reached the level defined in these newly published specifications, adding: “The  specifications are innovative insofar as they are not constrained by limitations in current UAV capability such as sense-and-avoid. The specifications will therefore only be practicable once industry develops this and other necessary technology.”

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