January 26, 2023 will be a critical date for the future of drone traffic in Europe. On this day, the European U-space regulation will come into effect. From this date, it will be possible to establish the first U-spaces (airspaces for drones) in Europe. Member States will have the freedom to implement this European regulation into national law as they see fit. In an interview with the Drones Magazine, Sebastian Törsleff describes the requirements and challenges he sees for Germany in this regard and how he envisions implementation. We present the most important points:
The conformance monitoring service will verify compliance with an issued flight permit. This service allows USSPs (U-space service provider) to see, among other things, whether a drone is in the airspace reserved for them and whether they are in conformity with U-space regulation requirements. If they are not, even despite having an existing permit to fly, they will be alerted. Similarly, drone pilots who are in the vicinity as well as air traffic service units and U-space service providers will also be alerted.
Sebastian Törsleff recommends that the conformance monitoring service be established as a fifth USSP feature, in addition to the four required by EU regulation*, in German U-space airspaces as a mandatory service. The aim of introducing such a feature is to achieve a higher level of safety and efficiency in the airspace.
Without the mandatory introduction of the conformance monitoring service, operators would have to judge for themselves whether – for example, in the event of a technical defect – a UAS (unmanned aircraft system) should leave the approved operating space, thus posing a safety risk to their own operating area. In this case, UAS operators would use the traffic information service. While other stakeholders, such as first responders and security professionals or the air traffic control centre, would use the network identification service. However, these services do not provide sufficient information because they only include the position and emergency status of a UAS, not the intended flight path.
The conformance monitoring service, on the other hand, makes it possible to detect fly-aways at the earliest possible stage and warn affected stakeholders. This allows appropriate safety measures to be taken at an early stage, if technical problems or human error cause drones to leave their assigned airspace.
*The four mandatory services of the U-space regulation to be provided in all U-space airspaces by the USSPs and to be mandatorily used by UAS operators are the geo-awareness service, the UAS flight authorisation service, the traffic information service and the network identification service. Optional services include the conformance monitoring service and weather information service. Member States may choose to make these mandatory services.
Various stakeholders are active in the U-space airspace: e.g., UAS operators, USSP, first responders and security professionals, etc. The single common information service provider, or SCISP for short, fulfils a critical function here by ensuring that all necessary information can be exchanged between these players by providing a so-called data hub.
The UDVeo project advocates the joint development of an government-funded SCISP that provides the basic functionality of shared information services. The background to this recommendation is that, due to the novelty of the topic, only cooperation between the various players will enable corresponding reliability and a central model will be more efficient. In addition, new knowledge can be introduced quickly in this way, thus increasing international competitiveness. To ensure that such a model does not prevent innovation, it is recommended that it be implemented as a government-initiated and initially financed open-source project. In this way, business and government can work together closely to continuously adapt the SCISP to growing market requirements.
Civil manned aircraft must maintain a minimum altitude of 300 metres above the highest obstacle in urban environments, while U-space airspace will probably have an initial height limit of 150 metres. Consequently, there is no conflict here outside of emergency situations (for this purpose, for example, existing ATM systems of the German Air Traffic Control could be expanded and connected to an SCISP).
Tactical conflicts, on the other hand, can occur if helicopters of first responders and security professionals, such as a rescue helicopter, cross the flight path of a UAS in a U-space. Helicopters of these authorities and organisations can fly in urban areas in lower airspace where the data reception of radar- and radio-based technologies is disturbed due to buildings. In Hamburg, helicopters are therefore only visible from a flight altitude of 50 metres.
Due to their special safety relevance, police and rescue helicopters must be able to enter into all U-spaces. In order to avoid conflicts with UAS, it is therefore necessary to integrate manned traffic of first responders and security professionals with UAS traffic and to have a structured process in which the destination and route of these helicopter is also information available to U-Space participants, in order to respond at an early stage. To establish such a process, the rescue control centres of the police and fire brigade should be involved. The goal is that large-scale restrictions of airspace only become necessary in exceptional cases, e.g., if the route of a police or rescue helicopter during an emergency operation cannot be anticipated.
Germany is technically excellently positioned for U-spaces. To ensure their safe implementation in Germany, political backing and funding are necessary. In the long term, it is commendable for all of Germany to become a U-space. The establishment of U-space services is the only way to safely and efficiently manage an increasing number of UAS flights.
For the initial phase, Sebastian Törsleff recommends a large number of smaller U-spaces in order to gain practical experience on a small scale and then be able to scale up safely. It is important to ensure that the design of the U-spaces is oriented towards the technical capabilities of the UAS and covers the spectrum of different levels of technological maturity, so as not to exclude anyone.
Only through the comprehensive coordination and communication of all stakeholders and their willingness to learn from each other will U-spaces become a successful model that can serve as a global role model.
Sebastian Törsleff is responsible for the development of UTM solutions at HHLA Sky. Previously, as head of the research project UDVeo (Urban Drone Traffic Efficiently Organised), his involvement in the recommendations for action developed there for the implementation of the European specifications for U-spaces was instrumental.
HHLA Sky is a member of the UDVeo consortium, and is also a project partner in the LUV project, the objective of which is to develop recommendations for action for the national implementation of the U-space Regulation of the European Union (DVO (EU) 2021/664), under consideration of technical, legal and organisational contexts.
The Drones magazine interview with Sebastian Törsleff can be read here in German: