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, is to be funded by the European Defence Agency and the European Commission.

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.

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.

UAV integration plan

EC funding will be rolled out in three tranches, each worth tens of millions of euros. The first tranche, covering 2008-11, will support the achievement of non-segregated military and state-owned UAV flight within individual 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 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.

EDA and ASD officials say that 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. Belgian army Col Maurice de Langlois, EDA capability manager for engage and area protection, told the conference that "this is an ambitious time schedule this is a big effort for EU members, but is 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. "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."

The core ASD group involved in the initiative comprises Alenia Aeronautica, BAE Systems, Dassault Aviation, EADS, Saab and Thales.

NATO's unmanned air vehicle flight in non-segregated airspace working group is proposing to introduce the term DUO (designated UAV operator) to replace "pilot" in alliance UAV planning and operational procedures guidance.

Source: Flight International