Earlier this year, the European Commission adopted EU-wide rules designed to pave the way for safe, efficient, and secure airspace access for large numbers of drones. As part of these rules, EU Member States can define designated no-fly zones where drones are not allowed to enter, including airports, airfields, and city centers.

Geofencing is essential to ensuring that drones comply with airspace restrictions. Geofences prevent drones from entering no-fly zones and keep them away from protected areas and critical infrastructure. Geo-caging, by contrast, does not allow drones to fly beyond a set boundary. Both measures are critical to keeping complex low-altitude airspace safe for all.

In an effort to evolve U-space capabilities for EU-wide implementation, AirMap is participating in GEOSAFE, a SESAR Joint Undertaking funded project aimed at researching, developing, and testing foundational and advanced geofencing services. Together with partner organizations SPH Engineering (developer of UgCS ground control station), Aeromapper, Atechsys, Air Marine, and Thales, AirMap successfully demonstrated the three tiers of geofencing aligned with U-space capability levels: pre-tactical (a core competency set forth in U1), tactical (a competency aligned with U2), and dynamic (an advanced competency required by U3). In order to better support and extend those capabilities, SPH Engineering integrated AirMap’s UTM Developer Platform APIs with its UgCS ground control station software and with the AVEM, Aeromapper’s large scale, long-range drone.

On October 10th, 2019, AirMap, SPH Engineering, Aeromapper, and other GEOSAFE partners convened in Pourrières (Var), France, and simulated a search-and-rescue operation to locate a missing hiker. Firefighters employed a drone to assist with the operation and created a temporary restricted airspace around the search vicinity. Two drones hovered outside the restricted airspace boundary, while the search-and-rescue drone and a participating helicopter hovered inside. Firefighters’ goal: to contain the search-and-rescue drone to the restricted airspace so it could execute its mission, and to keep other civilian drones out.

To demonstrate pre-tactical geofencing, the UgCS application used the AirMap Developer Platform APIs to visualize airspace restrictions, including the presence of a no-fly zone, prior to take-off. This allowed the drone operator to create a flight plan that did not conflict with the no-fly zone. While pre-tactical geofencing is not a comprehensive solution, it provides contextual, localized airspace geometries and rules to drone operators in advance of their missions.

AirMap and SPH Engineering also successfully demonstrated tactical geofencing, a capability required by U2. As the drone entered the restricted search area, the AirMap UTM platform delivered a real-time notification to the drone operator through the UgCS application, alerting the operator to the presence of the no-fly zone. In addition to notifying operators via real-time geofencing alerts, AirMap’s pilot application also offers an opt-in function that enables operators to actively prevent a connected drone from entering prohibited airspace.

Dynamic geofencing, as outlined in U3, allows airspace managers to dynamically create and distribute geofences to connected operators for real-time flight path adjustments. During the demonstration, the AirMap UTM platform created a geofence at the boundary of the no-fly zone as the drone approached. That information was immediately distributed to the UgCS ground control station, enabling the drone operator to take action to prevent the drone from entering the no-fly zone and reroute it on a new flight path.

“AirMap’s UTM platform and developer APIs, combined with UAS partner solutions from SPH Engineering and Aeromapper, provides drone operators direct access to advanced geofencing capabilities,” said Sebastian Babiarz, Head of Strategic Business at AirMap. “These technical capabilities are critical to make low-altitude airspace safer for drones, aircraft, citizens, and assets on the ground.”

“The GEOSAFE results are promising as the system ensures a high level of airspace compliance,” added Nicolas Sonnet, Director of Development at Aeromapper. “We consider dynamic geofencing to be a key function for UAVs that will operate beyond the visual line of sight in the not-too-distant future. We are pleased to have worked with AirMap and other partners to ensure UAV flight safety.”

“UgCS is best known for its comprehensive mission planning toolset for universal drone applications,” said Madara Mazkalne, VP Sales of SPH Engineering. “The integration with AirMap allows UgCS drone pilots to fly in safe interaction with all airspace participants, no matter whether they’re conducting an aerial survey, an industrial inspection or a search and rescue mission.”

Key takeaways from this and other SESAR Joint Undertaking projects will inform the European Commission of best practices for integrating drones into European airspace. AirMap is an active participant in four SESAR projects and contributes to the development of industry standards for drone enablement, such as the ASTM Remote ID standard recently demonstrated with multiple industry partners in Switzerland and the United States. To learn more visit airmap.com/platform.