March 4, 2022 – White Paper
Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) is the voice of Europe’s aeronautics, space, defence and security manufacturing industry, representing both directly (through our 19 company members) and indirectly (through our 22 national association members) over 3,000 companies of all sizes from 18 countries. Our companies constantly work with cutting edge technologies and push the boundaries of what is possible. Integrating new technologies into complex systems, our members drive innovation and develop highly competitive products that are key enablers for mobility, security and defence. Due to this, ASD is actively working on both traditional aviation topics, as well as on new and emerging topics. As a result, ASD has a dedicated working group focusing on unmanned traffic management (UTM)/ U-space topics, which develops policies, formulates strategies and projects one voice to the numerous EU and global stakeholders. This White Paper has been prepared by the ASD UTM Working Group and contains Industry’s common views on the U-space Regulation and the future of UTM in Europe.
The ASD UTM Working Group supports the vision for U-space laid out in the Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA) for the Digital European Sky (https://www.sesarju.eu/node/3697). This SRIA, published in September 2020, outlines the research and innovation roadmaps required to achieve the Digital European Sky by 2040. The SRIA was developed by the SESAR Joint Undertaking in response to a request from the European Commission and went through an extensive consultation process to obtain consensus from all stakeholders, including industry, Air Navigation Service Providers and the military. The SRIA will be the foundation for a public-private partnership (SESAR 3) that will be established under Horizon Europe to build on the achievements of SESAR and continue to make air transport smarter, more sustainable, connected and accessible to all civil and military airspace users, including new entrants.
As mentioned in the SRIA, “U-space is expected to provide the means to manage safely and efficiently high-density traffic at low altitudes involving heterogeneous vehicles (small unmanned aerial vehicles, electric vertical take-off and landing – eVTOLs - and conventional manned aircraft), including operations over populated areas and within controlled airspace. U-space will have to integrate seamlessly with the ATM system to ensure safe and fair access to airspace for all airspace users, including UAM flights departing from airports”.
We commend the pioneering efforts of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Commissions to put forward the U-space Regulatory Framework and we applaud their efforts to consider the views of all stakeholders. While this regulation may need to evolve in the future to accommodate the full European U-space vision, it is a solid first step towards that vision. At ASD, we are committed to contribute to the effective deployment of this regulation as well as to support its evolution and continuous improvement. The European industry is already working to develop, test and validate consensus standards that can serve as Acceptable mean of Compliance (AMC)/Guidance Material (GM) to facilitate the implementation of the regulation in a manner that ensures safety and interoperability while enabling open access and competition. We are therefore committed to test and validate the regulation as it is deployed throughout Europe, and to share our learnings from its application in operational environments.
In this White Paper, ASD provides our view on the U-space Regulatory Framework and identify some gaps that will need to be addressed as part of its evolution and continued improvement process, so that it can effectively evolve, together with its associated AMC/GM, to enable the European U-space vision within the Digital European Sky.
2. Current State of Play (Gaps and Blockers)
As previously mentioned, ASD welcomes the steps already taken by the European Commission and EASA in preparing the high-level draft Regulation required for the actualisation of the U-space and harmonising UTM activities across Europe. As this is just the first regulatory step, ASD as would like to share its experiences in order to facilitate the successful adoption of the cover regulation, one which builds a strong foundation for future implementing rules in a fair and future proof way.
2.1. Digital Services
The aerospace industry is moving towards more advanced technology, enhanced computing power and new concepts of operation, which is a strong combination to help facilitate new commercial air transport operations. Digitalisation has been identified globally as the key solution for the modernisation and flexibility of our current and future traffic management systems. UTM will offer digital and automated services which can pave the way for future services and new concepts of operation, while working alongside and converging with current Air Traffic Management (ATM) advancements.
The future Digital European Sky will be comprised of an ecosystem of advanced U-space services that will enable advanced autonomous missions at scale in a safe and efficient manner, with new entrants operating in harmony with traditional airspace users in an integrated airspace environment. The development and deployment of the European U-space vision will have to overcome complex technical, financial and legal challenges. An iterative, stepwise approach will have to be implemented to overcome those challenges, combining advanced technology (including cloud-enabled digital services and advanced connectivity) with agile development techniques, extensive testing and incremental deployment.
Intermediate steps in the deployment process will serve to gradually open the way to new entrants and will enable stakeholders to gather data, learn, refine standards and develop new ones.
UTM is not envisioned to be a single central system, but a networked collection of services working together digitally with common rules. A digital, distributed, service-based architecture provides several advantages. It allows access to different service providers; it can be adaptable to meet market needs, its scalable and cost effective (compared to physical infrastructures). There is, therefore, a strong push to build a digital backbone, i.e., a virtual platform, upon which different digital traffic services will run. UTM Information management is a rapidly evolving field. UTM service providers seek to take advantage of modern information management technologies based on cloud microservices architectures and standardised data models.
Consideration is needed now around the transition to cloud-based digital platforms, the adoption of extensive connectivity, the application of big data and the application of artificial intelligence (AI). One of the biggest challenges is the digital transformation of aviation operations and the deployment of new traffic management services. ASD considers the following work areas critical to a success of a future digital sky:
o Information management
Quality-assured aeronautical data will need to be readily accessible (preferably following global standards) so that it can be tailored to the needs of airspace users and UTM service providers in different operational scenarios. Additionally, consideration should be given now to ensure data is in an appropriate format to be used by the different AI applications being planned for UTM (and ATM).
o Simulation and verification
Industry will need to simulate and test a full set of U-space services. Work should start now on the definition, design and development of advanced services in particular those for automation and autonomy. The most advanced U-space services are required to enable high density and high complexity operations. The required technologies to enable performance-based Communication, Navigation and Surveillance services in the U-space need to be identified now and assessed in operational environments. Simulation can be leveraged alongside flight testing to verify that services meet requirements, and for end-to-end system safety assurance.
o Integration with existing traffic management systems
Industry will need to identify and understand the challenges associated with the integration of new cloud-based technologies with existing platforms. Alignment and agreement on security, fidelity and reliability of data will be essential.
o Cyber threat and security
Cybersecurity, as part of both safety and security, must be adopted through any UTM regulatory actions, to reduce vulnerabilities and minimise any cyber threats. A core focus of this work will be the interface (and reliance) between the aircraft and the traffic management systems. This activity is directly linked to the need for simulation and verification of services and technologies and associated cyber security performance requirements
o Application of Artificial Intelligence
There will be a growing reliance on AI technology in both UTM and ATM, and any regulation should facilitate this and draw on the EASA AI Roadmap and the FLY AI Report developed by the expert group managed by EUROCONTROL.
Current standards in the definition of e-identification and e-registration services show shortcomings with regard to security aspects, digital identity and legal liability. The identity of operators and unmanned aircraft is not established unambiguously and in an unalterable and secure way, which means that the accountability for operations is not certain.
Integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into low-altitude civil airspace by addressing management, identification and control issues is key to ensuring greater safety in UTM. In addition, guaranteeing the notarisation of a mission (i.e., legal proof of authorisation and existence at a certain date/time of the operation) and the traceability of the movement of drones, supports legal liability aspects and facilitates the development of the UTM market.
Regulators should be engaged in the definition of standards for the provision of services to certainly identify the entities responsible for any damages or violations caused by UAS operating in U-space.
An innovative approach to respond to this problem could be to have univocally certified actors in the UTM domain, as happens with the digital identity for access to PA services, i. e. to associate a certified identity not only to users (fleet managers, operators, citizens), but especially to unmanned aircraft, which are accumulated to Internet of Things objects.
This mechanism should be implemented by introducing a distributed identification system that should identify and authenticate devices and operators, securing and notarising the exchange of information between users who use U-space services and authorities.
Industry should identify common technologies and services in order to facilitate unmanned aircraft trusted operations with a guaranteed identity and certain accountability for safe, reliable and trusted unmanned operations for a more collaborative and secure airspace.
2.2. Integrated ATM and UTM
As operators start to leverage U-space services, and operations extend into areas where manned aircraft operate, the safe and effective integration between U-space services and traditional ATM services will become ever more critical. The effective integration between U-space and ATM services will help ensure safe operations for all users whilst enabling fair airspace access and unlocking the capacity and flexibility benefits of an integrated airspace system. U-space-ATM integration and will be based on a performance-based, risk-proportionate regulatory framework, which will in turn be supported by industry consensus standards. Looking into the future, the seamless integration of U-space and ATM services is expected to contribute to the fairness, safety, efficiency and environmental impact of an integrated air traffic management system and operating concept.
UTM - ATM integration will happen progressively. In the short-term, UTM systems will exchange information with ATM systems (and vice versa) using current ATM technologies, for example System-Wide Information Management (SWIM). When considering SWIM, it is important to highlight the PJ34-W3-AURA project funded by the SESAR JU under Horizon 2020. Several members of ASD are part of this ambitious project, which in two years will define the requirements for data exchanges between U-space and ATM and will validate these requirements in different exercises across Europe.
The recently approved U-space regulation introduces new functionalities such as dynamic airspace reconfiguration. This needs to be researched in depth, not only its operational concept, but also at a technological level. Dynamic airspace reconfiguration has an impact on every actor involved in the airspace and the risks/benefits for each one of them need to be further analysed. The AURA project will define an initial Concept of Operations for the seamless integration of UTM – ATM. One of the use cases is the dynamic reconfiguration of U-space airspace based on a request of a manned aircraft to enter. The idea is to test the concept and agree the operational and technical requirements for this to happen safely. It is important to start working today to achieve the full integration of UAS and UAM operations.
CORUS-XUAM is a very large-scale demonstration (VLD) project that will demonstrate how U-space services and solutions could support integrated UAM flight operations. Several ASD partners collaborate in this project. The activities will start with updating the U-space Concept of Operations to address the integration of UAM/UAS operations into the airspace and identifying new U3/U4 services. This will be followed by the preparation and execution of six demonstration campaigns in Belgium, France, Germany/United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Sweden.
2.3. Diverse Interest, One Airspace, One Source of Truth
The European VLD activities, in particular, provided a number of very fruitful opportunities for UTM and ATM stakeholders alike, be it commercial or state users, regulators or others, to directly interact, share concerns and expectations, and develop very innovative responses to the challenge to attend to sometimes diverging interests of the involved parties. Several observations can be made from the VLD projects, EASA consultations, regulation consultations, and many other activities, not only in Europe, for instance:
- The availability of unmanned aircraft drives automatisation and digitalisation. Capabilities of new devices are nothing less than impressive. The U-space concept embraces this digitalisation by design, from registration to flight, with considerable improvements to security and safety, despite the rapidly evolving state of the art.
- With the new technologies, we see new uses and applications of airspace and in the environment around it. ASD supports this development, and we believe that we must ensure that there is equal opportunity to this new set of resources to all who are interested. The U-space concept ensures that there actually is such opportunity, providing open and accessible interfaces, for instance.
Consequently, regulation should foster and safeguard these new developments to the best possible extent, and, consequently, corresponding regulatory and technical standards are being implemented alongside with them.
On the other hand, with the large number of traditional, as well as new stakeholders, we have seen that we need to learn how to live together and how to achieve a common view on what we do and how we do it. We will see automated flights, we will see automated passenger transport, and we will see much more of it.
ASD believes that thus it is essential to share a common operational view of the situation in a given area of operation, ever much more so when we realise that we cannot ultimately segregate ‘unmanned’ from ‘manned’ airspace forever. It therefore is essential that we do ensure that all stakeholders do have a real-time, current, and complete view of that operational situation. Subsequently, stakeholders will depend on the availability, reliability, and authenticity of this operational situation.
ASD believes that regulation hence must ensure that there is available an authoritative single source of truth for the information which constates this operational picture of a given domain of authority, and all the required data for that operational picture.
Regulative and technical considerations favour a central authoritative source of information of these essential services for that domain, and we understand from past and ongoing research and UTM activities all over the world that operational experience substantiates such approach, resulting in a stable, safe, and manageable operational environment. At the same time, conceptual interoperability and harmonisation ensure that is seamlessly possible to switch from one domain to the next safely and in real-time.
Last but not least, we must ensure that the business which builds on these essential services remains an open market accessible from anywhere. As long as we can ensure that business suppliers and consumers can find each other and negotiate freely, such free and open market can grow and persist, and the location of a provider or consumer does not matter.
3. What is the Way Forward?
The current U-space regulation is a first major step for UTM, though further steps will need to follow. The environment has changed significantly since the U-space regulation process was started. With the experience of ASD from the entire European manufacturing chain, ASD continues to support the relevant stakeholders, including The European Commission, EASA and SESAR, in defining an appropriate and modern regulation, as well as in research and technology. ASD actively supports creation and evolution of AMC and GM, clearly defining how regulation can be brought to life, allowing to implement first U-space deployments in Europe:
- Regulatory work should create the grounds for sustainable competition and should continue to happen in an efficient, open and forward-looking process, further taking into account lessons learned from initial deployments, focussed on enabling drone operations at a large scale.
- As a key enabler for business scale, efficiently execution of BVLOS missions will have a huge impact. Thus, ASD looks forward to support a regulatory framework for routine execution of complex BVLOS missions serving the needs of multiple stakeholders.
- Actions taken further should look beyond BLVOS flights, to strengthen Europe’s competitive position in worldwide digitalisation of aviation. Increasing efficiency in airspace usage as well as reducing the environmental impact of aviation needs consideration already.
ASD is further committed to take the necessary steps to support this process, in a collaborative manner, in line with the general approach laid out in the Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda.
To achieve this, ASD believes in the utilisation of proven mechanisms already in place, e. g. applying the SESAR deployment process to ensure UAS a first-class membership in one, integrated and digital European sky.
ASD appreciates that all of this is a challenge and will contribute to the following areas critical to successfully delivering the best integrated traffic management system of the future, where all stakeholders can:
● Work together to facilitate the safe integration of new air vehicle operations;
● Create a global airspace operational concept and standards for integrated air traffic management;
● Ensure the U-space regulation helps facilitate the convergence of UTM and ATM with a goal of one integrated air traffic management system and operating concept;
● Ensure interoperability of UTM with manned aviation and existing ATM systems;
● Guarantee that the U-space regulation is scalable, performance based and technology agnostic;
● Safeguard that European research and demonstration activities promote a working environment to ensure alignment and convergence between UTM and ATM; and
● Promote the European U-space globally with key stakeholders, including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and national aviation authorities, to ensure interoperability.