Europe fostering 8-year plan to mix unmanned aircraft with commercial aviation traffic

The European Defense Agency is projecting unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs) will be able to operate with civilian air traffic within eight years and it has signed a an $8.9 million with a consortium of aerospace companies to develop a detailed roadmap for integrating UAVs into European airspace. 

The EDA conducted a 16 month study on the feasibility of integrating UAV operations with existing technology and found that no new systems would need to be developed to supplement mid-air collision avoidance systems (MIDICAS) to handle UAV operations, though complementary developments and engineering are required to provide a UAV-specific system. The MIDICAS is a “sense and avoid” architecture that utilizes electro-optics, infrared sensors, radar and transponders for location information.  The study says electro-optics, lasers and radar will also be used according to the EDA.  

“(The study found) that the present air traffic management environment is able to manage the introduction of long endurance UAVs,” EDA officials said in a statement. “Many situations can be managed in the same way as they are for manned aviation or with limited adaptations.” 

The detailed roadmap for UAV integration will be developed by the European Air4All consortium, which includes BAE Systems, Alenia Aeronautica, Dassault Aviation SAAB and others.   

The alternative is that any UAVs not fitted with a MIDICAS system would most probably require the use of a chase aircraft with a UAV operator on board to maintain a visual surveillance of other aircraft. This is the current way most of the UAVs are presently flying in non-segregated airspace, particularly in the US, the study said. 

There are rumblings that the US will be doing more to safely integrate UAVs into the commercial airspace system but the Federal Aviation Administration has kept a tight reign on the situation. 

There are strict FAA guidelines for military and private use of UAVs, with military or governmental UAV use getting the most leniencies.  Typically though most commercial UAV use has altitude limitations and many are classified as experimental.  

However, the need for better air traffic control of the aircraft will be driven by the phenomenal growth of the UAV. For example, researchers at the Teal Group said in their 2008 market study estimates that UAV spending will more than double over the next decade from current worldwide UAV spending of $3.4 billion annually to $7.3 billion, totaling close to $55 billion in the next ten years.  

According to recent Aviation Week article, the four chiefs of service aviation and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) branches told the Army Aviation Association of America's unmanned aircraft symposium last week that the military should crystallize combat air control regarding UAVs, while domestic authorities must work out access and use of UAVs in domestic airspace. "I'm surprised we haven't had a collision yet," said Rear Adm. Joseph Aucoin, director of the Navy's aviation plans and requirements branch.  

And UAVs are becoming smaller and less expensive. That notion has sparked myriad research into how they can best be used. Some of these aircraft are small enough to be launched from a pickup truck but still large enough to be equipped with cameras and sensors that can provide low-cost aerial information. 

Layer 8 in a box

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