Integration of remotely piloted air systems (RPAS, or unmanned air systems) into non-segregated airspace in Europe has moved a step closer with the latest test flight in the Desire project (Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe). The project is funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Defence Agency (EDA) and led by Indra of Spain.
On April 26, an IAI Heron 1 UAV flew for six hours from San Javier airbase, which is co-located with Murcia airport in Spain. During the flight, it operated in both military and civil airspace, while performing a terrestrial and maritime surveillance mission. After climbing to 20,000 feet, the UAV entered Class C airspace, with the pilot in the ground station communicating with Spanish air traffic controllers at Barcelona via satellite link.
During the flight, a manned Casa C-101 from the Spanish Air Force Academy approached the UAV, simulating frontal and 90-degree collision trajectories. The pilots of the two aircraft followed the separation instructions issued by the air traffic controllers. Secondary radar data from the ATC system was available to the pilot of the UAV in the ground control station throughout the flight, improving his situational awareness of nearby aircraft, with more details and precision than an on-board pilot would have had, according to the EDA. The radar on board the UAV was also used to detect surrounding traffic, with the data transmitted to the pilot through the satellite link. The aim was to define and test the ATC and operation procedures applicable to a remotely piloted aircraft and to evaluate the safety of the satellite link and the reaction capacity of the aircraft’s ground pilot, both in routine operation and in emergency situations.
The EDA notes that current legislation does not provide a harmonized framework in Europe for enabling UAVs to fly in civil airspace, in particular beyond line of sight. This situation is curbing their use and application in the civil sphere, thus making it difficult for the European industry to develop the technologies and equipment that will make their use possible in the future. The demonstration undertaken within the Desire project aims at establishing an agreed set of requirements that could serve as a basis for the future definition of the regulatory framework for UAV air traffic integration in Europe, by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Eurocontrol.