Another European project for drone integration into urban airspaces

There are so many drone-based urban air mobility projects that SESAR is involved with right now that it might crack your head just to try and keep track of every one of them.

The ongoing projects include Air Mobility Urban – Large Experimental Demonstrations (AMU-LED); Safe and Flexible Integration of Advanced U-Space Services for Medical Air Mobility (SAFIR-Med); the Concept of Operations for European U-Space Services – Extension for Urban Air Mobility (CORUS-XUAM); and the Uspace4UAM; all of which are projects aimed towards the safe integration of drone technology in various capacities, especially in European urban airspaces.

SESAR – the Single European Sky ATM Research – is the technology arm of the European Union’s Single European Sky initiative, set up in 2004 with the goal to define, develop and deploy implements needed to increase Air Traffic Management (ATM) performance and build Europe’s intelligent air transport system. In 2007, SESAR created a public-private partnership, the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU), where SESAR joined forces with governments and private industry players to modernise the European air traffic management (ATM) system by coordinating and concentrating all ATM relevant research and innovation efforts in the EU.

The organisation has now announced another project, the Gulf of Finland (GOF) 2.0 Integrated Urban Airspace Validation, a follow up to the GOF Unmanned-Space project, which successfully demonstrated the safe airspace integration of unmanned aerial vehicles in the summer of 2019. With a consortium of thirteen players in the drone industry, GOF2.0 will go a step further and test unmanned aerial vehicle flights specifically in urban airspace over the next two years.

“Building on the key learnings and results of the first project, SESAR JU GOF 2.0 now intends to safely, securely, and sustainably demonstrate operational validity of serving combined unmanned aerial systems (UAS), electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL), and manned operations in a unified, dense urban airspace using existing ATM and U-space services and systems,” said SESAR in a statement. “Both ATM and U-space communities depend extensively on the provision of timely, relevant, accurate, and quality-assured digital information to collaborate and make informed decisions.

“The demonstrations will focus on the validation of the GOF 2.0 architecture for highly automated real-time separation assurance in dense airspace, including precision weather and telecom networks for air-ground communication. This will significantly contribute to understanding how the safe integration of UTM and other commercial drone operations into ATM airspace can be implemented without degrading safety, security, or disrupting current airspace operations.”

Passenger drone maker, EHang is part of the consortium.

Organisations in this particular consortium comprise the two air navigation services of Estonia and Finland; the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences; CAFA Tech; Dimetor; DroneRadar; EHang; Frenquentis; Pansa; Robots.Expert; Threod Systems; Unmanned Systems Limited; and Vaisala.

The project is funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme.

As a member of the consortium, drone manufacturer, EHang released a statement in support of the EU’s latest efforts to open up their sky to unmanned aviation.

“EHang is dedicated to creating a safe, secure, and sustainable integration of UAS Traffic Management (UTM) into ATM systems,” the company statement said. “EHang aims to establish a comprehensive UAM ecosystem including infrastructure, software and supporting service systems, which matches the mission of the GOF 2.0 project to enable cost-effective operations of autonomous and semi-autonomous UAVs Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) in shared airspace. EHang believes its EH216 passenger-grade autonomous aerial vehicles (AAVs) will be gradually accepted for autonomous air taxi services by Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs), airspace users, regulatory authorities, and ultimately the flying public.”

It does indeed look like a plateful of projects that SESAR is trying to get off the ground at once; but what this confirms is one thing – that drone integration into urban air mobility is now only a matter of when it will arrive, not if. The European Union’s dedication to a single sky, governed by a common aviation law has to be applauded too, for its friendly approach to the expedition of unmanned aircraft in the urban airspaces.

It does look like a good blueprint, which no doubt has taken a lot of behind the scenes planning to get here; and our hope is governments on the African continent are taking note, and will establish something similar soon. Who knows; there might not be talk of it right now; but it could only be a matter of time too before commercial drones are crossing oceans.

We need to be ready.


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