Drones are becoming a part of everyday lives and increasingly integral to community services and a greener path forward for supply logistic chains. The value they represent will be seen in benefits to the individual, businesses, and the environment.
Reinaldo Negron, Wing’s Head of Uncrewed Traffic Management (UTM), says U-space – a term used to describe airspace in which scaled drone operations integrate with crewed aircraft – has to be made available in a safe and equitable manner.
“We have a lot of the ingredients for integration at scale,” he says. “But we need to make the dish, and we now need to get U-space across the finish line.”
U-space is at a critical phase with U-space service providers (USSP) going through certification. Although certification must act as a strong and acceptable marker for safety and industry standards, it must also be achievable for companies large and small. Making certification a complex undertaking could act as a barrier to a nascent industry that promises enormous advantages.
“We are all aligned on ensuring safety outcomes,” explains Negron. “However, we need to continue to match system performance to risk, which means we shouldn’t blanket transfer air traffic management (ATM) processes to UTM. We must enable innovation to focus on the outcomes instead of prescriptive means.
“We don’t need to go through the exact same steps, and there are many parts of the regulatory, standards and industry ecosystem working to create something new,” he continues. “This is a completely different concept. We are talking about new vehicles with different performance parameters and requirements. It is a new journey that we are on together.”
What the regulation does do is ensure an open market with provision for multiple USSPs. “This is essential as we can’t have a static market,” says Negron. “Services will need to evolve and expand. We must be able to move with the pace of the industry.”
And though European-wide regulation (EU2021/664) became applicable in January 2023, interoperability is another obstacle to overcome before the UTM sphere matures.
The European Union’s (EU) Drone Strategy 2.0 aims to create a trusted and safe environment for a competitive EU drone services market, with a fully functional European-wide U-space anticipated by 2030. But information exchange and navigation performance standards are key areas of discussion if the target date is to be met.
“Drone manufacturers and operators want to make sure that their approvals are portable and procedures repeatable,” says Negron.
“As an operator and USSP, we want to have similarity for key processes, such as dynamic airspace reconfiguration,” he says. “If the implementation is different, if the procedures are different, it increases both certification complexity and operator risk as drone operators would need to be trained for each unique airspace. Interoperability and harmonised processes are critical to increased safety and lower cost.
“Best practice has to dictate how we move forward,” Negron concludes. “The sky is a shared resource and there must be collaboration and harmonization. If we do that, we will be better at risk assessment and solving the practical issues ahead.”
Wing is discussing the crucial UTM topics at the Wing Theatre.