U-Space represents the next major advancement for the drone industry. It will allow drone operators to conduct a large number of Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations in complex environments, such as above cities and in controlled airspace. In 2022, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published the European regulatory framework for U-Space, which will take effect on January 26th, 2023. For local authorities, municipalities, provinces, member states, and all other relevant entities that may benefit from U-Space airspace, it is important to understand the reasons for establishing U-Space airspace.
The U-Space concept
As of 2023, member states have the ability to designate U-Space airspace to specific areas of the existing airspace. In U-Space airspace, traffic is controlled by a U-Space service provider, while the traditional air traffic management system (ATM) is still overseen by air traffic controllers. However, the capacity for drone operations is often limited due to the workload of radio communication.
U-Space is defined as a set of specific services and procedures designed to ensure safe and efficient access to airspace. It relies on a high level of digitalization and automation. Within designated U-Space airspace, four mandatory services will be provided to guarantee safe and efficient operations:
Network Identification Service This service provides the identity of operations in U-Space airspace. Moreover, the location and trajectory of the drone during the operation is visible for monitoring and management purposes.
Geo-awareness Service With the geo-awareness service, the drone is always aware of the operational environment. Examples of this include airspace limitations (e.g. no-fly zones) or time limitations due to other traffic.
Flight Authorization Service Before each flight, the flight authorization service will ensure that the intended trajectory is free of conflicts. It is also referred to as strategic deconfliction.
Traffic Information Service During the flight, traffic information service must be provided in the U-Space airspace. If there are any other aircraft nearby, the traffic information service must alert the operator.
These services are provided by the U-Space Service Provider, which is a special company that's been certified and approved. But before U-Space can be used, airspace needs to be designated for it.
Not just for safety
With the increasing number of drones in more complex situations and operations, safety is an important reason to establish U-Space. In the coming years, drone operations beyond the sight of a pilot (BVLOS) will increase, as will the size and weight of the drones themselves. Therefore, the risk of integrating drones into the existing airspace without the introduction of a new traffic management concept will also increase. This risk is particularly significant in complex environments such as airport and heliport environments or populated cities.
However, the reasons for establishing U-Space are not limited to safety. Environmental, security, privacy or economy factors may also necessitate the creation of a controlled airspace for drone operations. From an environmental perspective, limiting traffic density may be a reason, while flights over sensitive sites may be restricted for security purposes.
Taking all stakeholders into account
However, activating U-Space requires authorities to undergo a rigorous process known as the 'Coordination Mechanism.' This mechanism includes conducting an Airspace Risk Assessment, taking into account various data sources and information from stakeholders. Since the reasons for establishing U-Space can vary or may include multiple factors, the process for establishing U-Space considers input from all stakeholders. By incorporating both aviation and non-aviation stakeholders, data can be gathered to design the U-Space airspace in the most efficient manner.
This process within the Coordination Mechanism should culminate in a decision to implement U-Space or not, a "green" or "red" light. Therefore, proper preparation is essential.
How AirHub can assist in the process
With operational and legal expertise and experience in both manned and unmanned aviation, AirHub can assist Civil Aviation Authorities (CAAs), Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs), and local governments in the process of establishing U-Space. AirHub can advise on whether U-Space may be a solution for any Safety, Security, Environmental, Privacy or Economy concerns. At AirHub, we have also established a workflow to perform Airspace Risk Assessments in a compliant and efficient manner. In this way, we can support CAAs, ANSPs, and local governments in the process of establishing U-Space. For an example of how AirHub has assisted in a large scaled European project, check out or AMU-LED case.