While in general terms legislators seem to be trying to keep drones and airplanes apart, in Europe different projects under the Single European Sky explore the viability of simultaneous flight of civil drones and manned aircrafts.

A total of nine different projects in Europe evaluate the impact of drone integration into unrestricted airspace. The aim is to have both aircraft and drones operating in the same areas, under the same rules.

One of the first simultaneous flight of a civil drone and a manned aircraft in Europe happened recently at the Spanish airport of Villacarrillo (Jaen), as part of a program which is the future technological pillar of the Single European Sky.

The European ARIADNA consortium led by Indra and integrated by CRIDA, ENAIRE and Fada-Catec has completed the first simultaneous flight tests in a conventional airport of a drone or remotely piloted aircraft (RPAS/UAS) in the presence of a manned aircraft. The experience, one of the first of this kind undertaken in Europe, aims to demonstrate the viability of having drones operating in the area of the traffic of a conventional aerodrome. The European ARIADNA project thus allows further progress in integrating these aircrafts in non-segregated airspace, i.e. in the same space used by manned aircrafts.

The flight program was held at the ATLAS Experimental Flight Center, located in Villacarrillo (Jaen), where the airspace that can be segregated for such operations. According to the information provided by ARIADNA, the exercises were carried out in two distinct phases. In the first, a drone, called Viewer, flew executing various manoeuvres on the airfield while the Indra MRI P2006T manned aircraft operated simultaneously.

A controller supervised the operation, as in a real situation, giving separation instructions to the aircrafts. The drone's remote pilot, who monitors the aircraft from the ground at all times, had the position data of both aircrafts provided by an ADS-B receptor, thus improving situational awareness of traffic in the area.


Unmanned Aircrafts and ATC

Another drone was used in the second phase of flights — the unmanned helicopter Logo— with which the feasibility of instrument approach and landing procedures with vertical guidance based on satellite navigation was validated. The ability of these aircrafts to operate at an airport under the same conditions as other aircrafts was thus demonstrated. Success in tests is a very important step for the members of the ARIADNA project, which are positioned at the forefront in the area of research and development for integration these aircrafts in the air traffic control environment.

The project is one of nine co-funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking aimed at safely integrating drones into the European ATM system. SESAR (Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research) was set up to modernize and harmonize ATM systems through the definition, development and deployment of innovative technological and operational solutions.

The ARIADNA project has been developed by a consortium of companies and institutions in the Spanish aeronautical sector, composed of Indra as coordinator and industrial partner of RPAs; ENAIRE as manager of Air Navigation in Spain; CRIDA, as a research center in air traffic management; and FADA-CATEC, as a research center and RPAs operator.


Single European SkyOne Europe, One Sky

SESAR (Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research) is also involved with the trials to demonstrate safe drone integration in conventional traffic, led by Italy and Malta. The RAID (RPAS ATM Integration Demonstration), is conducting a flight trial campaign to evaluate the impact of drone integration into unrestricted airspace. The trials follow a successful series of real-time simulations (RTS), which have received positive feedback from stakeholders.

According to the information available from SESAR, “RAID is one of several demonstration project co-funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking aimed at the safe integration of civil remotely aircraft systems (RPAS). Led by CIRA, the Italian Aerospace Research Centre, the project aims to demonstrate and evaluate the impact of integrating drones into unrestricted airspace within current air traffic management environments.”

The project is specifically looking at the short-term implications of such activities through real-time simulations and flight tests. The RTS were conducted in March 2015 using CIRA’s RPAS ground simulation facility and ATC simulators owned by Malta Air Traffic Services (MATS) and the University of Malta, using licensed air traffic controllers, as well as, RPAS and pseudo pilots. The results of RTS phase were presented in the first workshop held at the Italian Military Airforce headquarters on 10 December 2015.


Testing Safety and Security

The project also recently launched a flight trial campaign using the CIRA experimental vehicle FLARE, an optionally piloted vehicle developed by CIRA on a Tecnam P92 Echos-S vehicle. Both manned and unmanned aircraft are also involved in the trials. During the trials, a number of evaluations are being carried out by the team, notably with regards human, safety and security factors in different operating scenarios. Specifically, the trials are evaluating:

  • Fully automated and augmented autopilot modes;
  • Traffic separation managed by air traffic controllers dealing with manned and unmanned intruders;
  • Emergency conditions management during jamming/spoofing of the command and control Link;

Cooperative traffic separation between remote pilot and controllers using an airborne automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast (ADS-B) based Detect And Avoid (DAA) decision support system.

The results of the trials campaign will be presented to the public audience and stakeholders this month (June), in the project closing workshop.

The RAID consortium is led by CIRA and involves Italian SMEs – DeepBlue, NAIS, Nimbus –MATS – and the University of Malta.

SESAR Joint Undertaking is co-financing multiple projects with the purpose to investigate the integration of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in the non-segregated airspaces. Objectives of the project span from successfully and safely fly an RPAS in un-segregated airspace with a multi-aircraft and manned flight environment, within the procedural, and existent air traffic control environment, to the assessment of the level of maturity, performance, limitations and compatibility with current infrastructures and procedures, of some relevant technologies, such as a ADS_B based Detect and Avoid System (DAA).

The First Flight

The first of these trials happened back in September 2015, when SESAR members successfully conducted a live flight trial by an unmanned aircraft in controlled and unsegregated airspace, in what is being hailed as a major milestone in aviation history. The flight is associated with project CLAIRE (CiviL Airspace Integration for RPAS in Europe), a collaboration between Thales, NATS, the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory NLR, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The project was jointly funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking.

The flight took place on 30 September, with a Thales Watchkeeper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) taking-off from West Wales Airport and embarking on a three hour flight into civil controlled airspace for the first time. There it was controlled by NATS air traffic controllers in exactly the same way as a traditional aircraft, despite the fact that the pilots were sitting on the ground in a control room at the airport.

Until now, the use of large unmanned aircraft has been limited to specialist areas of segregated airspace where they are kept well away from civil air traffic. The aim of these flight trials and associated safety, regulatory and procedure design work, is to demonstrate the possible and safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into controlled airspace.


Industry Milestone

Florian Guillermet, Executive Director of the SESAR Joint Undertaking, said: “This is an important milestone for aviation and was made possible thanks to the pioneering and collaborative spirit of SESAR’s members and partners.”

For Mark Watson, Head of Research and Development at NATS, “Safety is always our top priority so a huge amount of work has gone into getting to this point and much more will be needed, but it’s a major milestone for the industry and shows that the UK and Europe are leading the world when it comes to the development of RPAS and its integration into controlled airspace.”

Pierre Eric Pommellet, Thales Executive Vice-President, Defence Mission Systems, said: “Thales is proud to be involved in the Project CLAIRE flight demonstration and the challenge of safely integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems into controlled civilian airspace."