Large drones or remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) have been used for many years by the military, but have been restricted to segregated airspace to protect their operations. With increasing demand for large civil RPAS, SESAR members are investigating how best to integrate these vehicles into non-segregated airspace alongside commercial traffic.
Managing RPAS traffic is challenging for controllers for a number of reasons. For a start, many RPAS fly significantly slower than conventional airliners. Added to that is the latency in communication that may occur between the operator on the ground and the platform in the air with the possibility of a datalink loss. RPAS may also require special mission patterns and could be impacted by weather such as strong winds, often far more significantly than other conventional aircraft.
On 4 April, SESAR members ENAV and Leonardo validated the integration of big drones (certified RPAS) in real time in non-segregated Italian controlled airspace. The operations were carried out in a mixed mode considering both RPAS and manned traffic. Air traffic controllers and remote pilots joined the real time simulations, working in a realistic operational environment. Special emphasis was placed on the assessment of latency or delay in communication and command and control (C2) link related to satellite-link (beyond line of sight operations). In addition, the use of dedicated contingency procedures designed for RPAS in case of loss of C2 link and loss of communication were assessed as well as RPAS vectoring operations.
During the validation exercise, researchers collected qualitative and quantitative data on human performance and safety taking into account the views of both controllers and remote pilots. A preliminary assessment was positive on the feasibility to integrate safely RPAS into controlled airspace in the terminal maneuvering area with acceptable human performance impact. It was noted however that further research is need on contingency situations in the case of RPAS failures.
The validation is part of the PROSA PJ10-05 on IFR RPAS (RPAS) integration solution led by ENAV and was conducted in collaboration with Leonardo Telespazio, Techno Sky, IDS and Deep Blue. The validation also saw the participation of DFS (PJ10 PROSA Coordinator), Eurocontrol, AMI, CIRA, ETF, INECO, EDA, PANSA.
About SESAR HORIZON 2020 PJ10 PROSA
PJ10 PROSA has received funding from the SESAR Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 734143
The air traffic controller is the main player in the traffic management at tactical level. The SESAR 2020-project PJ10 PROSA focusses on separation management. It aims at providing the air traffic controller with better and more automated tools, thus freeing capacity for situations where human intervention is crucial. However, PJ10 PROSA will not only improve current conflict detection tools but also develop new tools aiding the air traffic controller with resolution advisory and monitoring of flight trajectory. The project also addresses new ways of working together. Air traffic controllers traditionally work in pairs within specific airspace. Could we change this traditional setup to multi-planner setup, sectorless airspace and seamless cross-border operations? Another important issue related to separation management is the integration of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems.