30 November 2022, Brussels – Urban air mobility, emergency medical deliveries and aerial infrastructure inspections were just some of the everyday uses for drones showcased during EU Drone Days, a two-day conference co-organised by the European Commission and the SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking (SESAR 3 JU). The conference highlighted the important role that innovation is playing in building a competitive, safe and sustainable drone services market in Europe, with up to EUR 35 million in EU-SESAR funding available in 2023 to fast-track the uptake of future SESAR U-space innovations.
Gathering some 450 stakeholders from the drone industry and European institutions, EU Drone Days was a backdrop for the launch by the European Commission’s Drone Strategy 2.0, an initiative, which aims to foster the development of new sustainable drone services and transport solutions. Panel discussions with industry and policy experts explored the areas covered by the Strategy, including innovative air mobility and emergency services, and strengthening synergies between European civil and defence drone capabilities.
“Today’s Strategy not only widens Europe’s capacity to pursue large-scale commercial drone operations but also offers new opportunities, in particular to small and medium-sized enterprises. With the right framework in place, the drone services market in Europe could be worth EUR 14.5 billion, and create 145,000 jobs, by 2030,” said Adina Vălean, Commissioner for Transport, European Commission.
As the drone services market continues to take shape in Europe, pressure is on to make sure that, these air vehicles are safely and securely integrated into an already busy airspace. Transforming infrastructure and services to support such operations is critical to harnessing the potential of the sector, unlocking market growth, jobs and services for EU citizens. However, a simple adaptation of the current air traffic management system is not enough; accommodating these air vehicles in the numbers forecasted requires a new approach.
That is the rationale behind U-space, the ecosystem under development, based on research by the SESAR 3 JU, which will allow drones to operate at scale. Through presentations and a dedicated exhibition, the conference showcased the latest results from SESAR 3 JU’s project portfolio that are developing digital and automated technological solutions that will make U-space a reality.
Between 2020 and 2022, these projects carried out tests and trialled solutions at close to 70 locations around Europe showing the readiness of U-space services to manage a broad range of drone operations and related applications, and their interaction with manned aviation. These range from parcel deliveries between urban areas, medical emergencies and police interventions, as well as air taxi trials in controlled airspace around airports. An important output of the research programme was an updated and consolidated concept of operations for U-space, now including urban air mobility (UAM).
“The vision set out by today’s Drone Strategy 2.0 is clear: by 2030 drones will be part of our everyday lives, offering EU citizens and businesses a wide range of commercial and public services. The digital solutions stemming from SESAR 3 JU’s programme are concrete building blocks for the U-space and will help us achieve this ambitious vision. They will help scale up the implementation of urban air mobility and build a safe and sustainable EU drone services market that would serve as a best practice for the rest of the world,” said Henrik Hololei, Director-General for Mobility and Transport at the European Commission and Chair of SESAR 3 JU’s Governing Board.
In addition to projects showcasing their results, the conference discussed the role that strong collaboration has played delivering tangible solutions for U-space. The projects brought together a wide range of actors from traditional aviation, start-ups, research institutes, universities, drone operators, service providers, airports, local and city authorities, law enforcement agencies, military stakeholders and civil aviation authorities. The SESAR 3 JU also worked closely with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and EUROCAE, the European aviation industry standards developing body, and is supporting wider standardisation work by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), in particular through ICAO’s UAS advisory Group.
“Collaboration is key to successful innovation. We have seen that in the U-space demonstrations, which took place over real cities, with civic authorities, emergency services, air traffic control and airports, all providing us with valuable insights and helping to deliver solutions that make sense and bring maximum benefits. Thanks to this collaborative spirit, we are beginning to see U-space implementations across Europe,” said Andreas Boschen, Executive Director of the SESAR 3 JU.
Indeed, the deployment of U-space is taking place progressively across Europe based on increasing availability of blocks of services and enabling technologies, the conference heard. As with manned aviation, drone operators and U-space service providers will need to comply with regulations set by EASA. The European regulatory framework and the first U-space regulations, adopted by the European Commission in 2021, enters into force in January 2023 and will promote a harmonised approach to U-space deployment across Europe.
Citizens’ confidence and acceptance will be critical to the further development of the drone services market, which speakers highlighted throughout the conference. While a study conducted by EASA in 2021 showed that EU citizens initially expressed a positive attitude towards mobility, work remains to address safety, privacy and environmental concerns raised by the general public.
“Europe must become a pioneer and trendsetter in the international drone market. For this, we need a comprehensive and non-discriminatory framework. A fully functioning European drone ecosystem can only be effective if users, regulators, and the public are involved. We need to seek dialogue with citizens to address barriers and concerns about drone safety,” said Jan-Christoph Oetjen, Member of the European Parliament. Coming next
Public trust and engagement will be among the areas that a series of new Digital Sky Demonstrators will aim to address over the coming three years within the framework of the SESAR 3 JU research and innovation programme. With a combined budget of EUR 15 million from the Connecting Europe Facility/CINEA, the three Demonstrators will aim to facilitate the implementation of U-space at scale, with test sites planned in Belgium, France, Italy, Ireland and Spain. In addition, evaluations are currently underway as part of a call to select consortia of innovators and early movers, which with an estimated budget of EUR 35 million, will be tasked with fast-tracking the uptake of U-space innovations across Europe as of 2023. More U-space funding will be made available between now and 2027, as the programme progresses.
About SESAR Joint Undertaking
The SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking is an institutionalised European private-public partnership set up to accelerate through research and innovation the delivery of the Digital European Sky. The partnership is developing cutting-edge technological solutions to manage conventional aircraft, drones, air taxis and vehicles flying at higher altitudes. The SESAR 3 JU partnership brings together the EU, Eurocontrol, and more than 50 organisations covering the entire aviation value chain, from airports, airspace users of all categories, air navigation service providers, drone operators and service providers, the manufacturing industry and scientific community. The partnership also works closely with the regulatory and standardisation bodies, notably EASA and Eurocae, as well as key stakeholders, such as professional staff organisations, the space and military communities and global partners.
U-space is a set of services and specific procedures designed to support safe, efficient and secure access to airspace for large numbers of drones. These services rely on a high level of digitalisation and automation of functions, whether they are on board the drone itself, or are part of the ground-based environment. U-space allows this market to grow by helping to establish technologies, rules and procedures that will eventually enable drones to safely share the airspace with manned aviation. A set of technological capabilities and services U-space services are required for making U-space a reality, starting with foundation services (U1) before progressing to initial services (U2), advanced services (U3) and finally full services (U4).
An implementation monitoring report, released by EUROCONTROL annually, provides an overview of the level of implementation of U-space services across Europe, according to the timeline set out in the European ATM Master Plan, Europe’s common roadmap for the modernisation of air traffic management, including U-space.
U-space is the focus one of nine of the SESAR 3 JU flagships within its Digital European Sky research and innovation programme. The first three Digital Sky Demonstrators to get underway are BURDI (Belgium), ÉALÚ-AER, U-ELCOME.
Watch our U-space video
Download the U-space projects summary brochure
Credit to: SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking