The European Defence Agency and the European Commission are planning to fund a multi-million euro project to achieve initial integration of military and state owned unmanned air vehicles in European airspace by 2011 followed by civil UAVs by 2013.

The proposed programme will place Europe at the forefront of global efforts to establish seamless airspace integration for UAVs. The plan envisages standardised UAV operations in European airspace integration from 2015, followed by co-operative work with the International Civil Aviation Organisation to roll out the adopted system globally from 2015.

Barracuda take-off W445

The initiative will be developed around a five-stage plan to be implemented in conjunction with the AeroSpace and Defence (ASD) industries association of Europe.
Launch funding of €500,000 ($678,000) will be provided this year by the EDA.

EC funding will be rolled out in three tranches, each worth tens of million of euros. The first tranche, covering 2008-11, will support the achievement of non-segregated military and state-owned UAV flight within individual European nations, with common type certification for UAVs expected from 2009.

Tranche two funding will cover 2011-14 and support normalised civil UAV operations within individual European nations’ airspace, and the start of cross-border operations for both civil and military flights.

Tranche three will start in 2014 and facilitate normalised military and civil UAV operation in European airspace from 2015.

In parallel EDA and the EC are to fund development of a new European long-endurance UAV to support civil and military applications, including forming the basis of a new European maritime surveillance system. Initial funding allocations for that project are being targeted for 2008.

The plans were unveiled at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s Unmanned Systems Europe 2007 conference in Cologne, where EDA and ASD officials said almost a year of background work has already been put into the airspace integration initiative.

The seven-year schedule is acknowledged by EDA planners to place pressures on the programme. The Belgian army’s Col Maurice de Langlois, EDA capability manager for engage and area protection, told the conference that “this is a very ambitious time schedule; this is a big effort for European Union members, but this is a to allow all of our families of UAVs to fly in non-segregated airspace”.

He said a multi-agency approach will be essential to achieving normalised UAV operation in European airspace due to the complexity of the issues involved.

“We have created this joint organisational structure to co-ordinate all the actions which are already launched, and which we also intend to support with this common approach between the [European] Commission, our agency and the European industry… Our common goal is to open the European airspace and to have a technology demonstration to produce UAV systems that can routinely fly across national borders.”

Existing European airspace integration efforts for UAVs are duplicative according to Richard Sleeman, head of ASD’s UAV certification and qualification working group. He told the conference that “ASD recognise that spreading our efforts, diluting the finances and research people across Europe, was wasting effort”.

The core ASD group involved in the initiative comprise Alenia Aeronautica, BAE Systems, Dassault Aviation, EADS, Saab and Thales. That group began work on a roadmap in early 2006 with an initial study now completed. “We are about to head off into the next stage, which develops the work that we have done, establishes a firm plan, an organisation and mechanism for taking this forward, and pushes for the budget needed to do it.”

Additional funding for the initiative is expected to be sourced directly from national governments as the project advanced, Sleeman said.

 “With each stage of the route map there is a tangible demonstration of progress on the route to open airspace and in doing so provides a mechanism for Europe to take a lead in the coming UAV civil and state market.”