The European member states and various aviation organizations such as EASA and Eurocontrol have reached an agreement on the legal basis under U-space, the system of protocols, technologies, and rules that should ensure further integration of drones in the airspace in the future. The starting point is that U-space will become a new drone airspace class, which may have far-reaching consequences.
European member states agree on introduction new drone airspace class
U-space – new drone airspace class
It is expected that more and more drones will fly around the European airspace in the future. This not only concerns hobby drones and drones that are used for inspections and photography but especially also parcel-carrying drones, autonomous flying drones of emergency services, and even electric air taxis. The magic word in all these new applications is BVLOS or flying out of sight of the operator.
In order to ensure that all this runs smoothly, there is a need for a standardized infrastructure to monitor and control all those air movements, in such a way that traditional manned air traffic is not hindered and the safety of people on the ground is guaranteed. U-space has to take care of that. Think of it as highly automated drone air traffic control.
In recent years there has been much consultation about the legal basis under U-space. Given the complexity of the subject, this was not an easy process. Certainly not in view of the sometimes conflicting interests and insights. But on February 24, the member states came out with EASA, the European Commission, and Eurocontrol. The legal framework for U-space will take effect on January 26, 2023.
The most important foundation under the legislation is that U-space is given the status of a new airspace class (airspace). It is up to the Member States to add this new class to the existing airspace categories (such as A, B, C for controlled airspace and G for uncontrolled airspace). That means a lot of homework for the national aviation authorities, because creating a new airspace layout is a very complex jigsaw puzzle, especially if extra airspace for drones has to be interwoven.
Once a piece of airspace is assigned the U-space classification, at least four unmanned traffic management (UTM) services must be available there, namely network identification, geo-awareness, air traffic information, and flight authorization. All drones that use this new piece of airspace must be able to interact with U-space service providers.
Undoubtedly, there will be a lot of uncertainty in the near future about the exact consequences of the introduction of U-space for drone operators and especially for traditional air traffic. Because a new airspace category for drones also means that manned air traffic – and in particular so-called general aviation – may be jammed in certain places, something that interest group AOPA already warned about in 2019. Moreover, it seems that local authorities – such as municipalities – want to have a say in the formation of U-space – something that is already provoking the necessary discussion.
‘Regular’ drone pilots – recreational users and people who use drones for simple business tasks, where the drone flies not far from the pilot – will not have to deal with U-space directly, although it is not inconceivable that more zoning will lead to more restrictions come when it comes to places where people can fly freely, especially when it comes to urban areas.
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