Last month, the AirMap team was in Amsterdam for Commercial UAV Expo Europe. With nearly double the number of attendees as last year, the conference brought together drone industry leaders to discuss key issues and trends across the sector.

In Europe, AirMap is a partner in four European U-space Demonstrator Projects, which are multi-country drone trials organized by the European Commission and others to help develop the regulations and best practices needed to safely integrate UAS into EU airspace, also known as U-space, and ultimately scale commercial operations. Two panels at the Expo provided updates on the findings and trends that have come out of the projects so far. Here are our four top takeaways:

1. Slow development of regulation is the biggest challenge across the board

Which comes first: drone operations or regulation? This “chicken or egg” concept is prevalent throughout the industry. For commercial drone operations to take place at scale, regulation is needed, but without regulation they can’t take place.

The European U-space Demonstrator Projects are working towards solving this paradox by testing specific use cases under controlled trials. As the industry collaborates to test integration and risk mitigation systems across various flight scenarios, the outcomes will guide regulators and provide helpful insights in developing rules and standards for drone integration across Europe. Where technology leads, regulation has often been slower to follow, but these demonstrations are helping to move the needle by facilitating meaningful industry and regulatory collaboration.

2. Airspace information has to be global

One of the key requirements for commercial drone operations to scale will be the ability to conduct flights between countries. In order for commercial drones to navigate safely across country boundaries, authorities must have complete visibility into a unified view of the airspace.

International operations are being tested in Finland and Estonia’s GOF USPACE trials, which include cross-border, beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) package delivery flights between the two countries over the Gulf of Finland. These trials are testing capabilities such as integrating manned traffic feeds, providing situational awareness for hobbyists, and deconflicting between multiple UAS Service Providers (USPs). Ultimately, by integrating Finnish and Estonian manned traffic with multiple unmanned traffic feeds, airspace managers have a complete and holistic view of the airspace. These considerations and tests will help build a system that will allow drone operations to become scalable at an international level, while maintaining the safety of the general public.

3. UTM to ATM interoperability is critical

Uniting classical Air Traffic Management (ATM) infrastructure with newer UAS Traffic Management (UTM) technologies is crucial to integrating drone flights safely alongside manned aircraft. The DOMUS project in Andalucia, Spain is doing just that. The development of European U-space been defined in four distinct U-levels with successively higher levels of connectivity and autonomy. The goal of the DOMUS project is to establish interoperable interfaces for an integrated ATM-UTM by demonstrating all U2 services, which focus on flight management, in addition to several key U3 services, including tactical deconfliction and collaboration with ATM. These demonstrations will allow DOMUS to analyze how these various U-space services can be delivered under one architecture with multiple UAS Service Providers (USP), with results expected by July 2019.

“AirMap is a pioneer in the field. They’re matching the traditional aviation perspective with a new UTM system. That was why we decided to sign a collaboration agreement to join forces and speed up the introduction of UTM technologies.”

– Federico Javier Viejo Acosta, Indra Spain

4. Positive use cases are making the public more comfortable with the use of drones

The nine demonstrator projects are each testing different aspects of U-space and use cases for drones to help inform regulatory best practices for drone integration across Europe. But their progress has not only been technological and regulatory in scope. One key qualitative outcome thus far is a positive shift in public perception of drones.

For example, the France GEOSAFE project has received positive public reaction by showing how drones can provide good visual aid to firefighters to put out flames more efficiently by accessing areas deemed unsafe for humans. The GEOSAFE project is running tests to assess drone behavior in various situations and to implement a new geofencing system. One of the trials includes creating a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) in response to a disaster, such as a fire. Drones in the vicinity are then prevented from entering this region while public safety officials can efficiently respond to the emergency.

“Our findings from the projects will be used to support the creation U-space regulatory frameworks.”

– Sebastian Babiarz, Head of Strategic Business Development, AirMap

The European commercial drone industry is still in its inception and regulation is still being defined, but in the meantime, the trials are demonstrating real-world examples of what is possible and creating best practices for U-space operations that are applicable worldwide. Overall, the early findings and insights that the projects have demonstrated are already encouraging to regulators, industry, and the public alike. We look forward to continuing to share updates and findings on the projects as they progress over the coming year.