Lorenzo Murzilli, founder and CEO of Murzilli Consulting, and Claudia Bacco from Air Traffic Management come together to discuss the early stages of u-space implementation and progress in Europe.
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This includes new pathways for type certification in the United States or design verification in Europe, and with the implementation of u-space in early 2023, things are still in their infancy, but we see that the potential for drone organisations is huge.
A brief overview of the current u-space implementation in Europe
The regulation has only been out for a few weeks, so instead of speaking about implementation, it would be more productive to think about these regulations as a framework for future implementation throughout Europe, like how stakeholders can use the acceptable means of compliance and guidance material (AMC/GM) provided within the regulations to shape future strategies. We are, unfortunately, still at the very beginning, and things are being constantly debated within other circles. This includes discussions between the various stakeholders as they think about if regulation is too hard or too easy, but the material for implementation has been laid out, which is important to remember.
It would be more beneficial to look at what the next steps are instead of at the early phase we’re in now. In the regulations, the European Member States are in charge of establishing national airspaces — or u-space airspaces. For this, we are closer than we’ve ever been before, but these things take time, even with the regulatory framework in place.
For some Member States, this might mean a matter of months before something happens, and for other Member States, this could be a matter of years. One thing that Lorenzo mentioned during his talk with Claudia was that there has been a general underestimation of the effort required to figure out and begin implementing u-space airspaces, which includes establishing the local conditions, creating risk assessments, and so on. It is up to the individual Member State to begin doing the work to provide a space for successful u-space implementation.
The next steps for u-space airspaces
It isn’t just governments that need to start preparing themselves both on a regulatory and on an infrastructure level. Commercial organisations in the drone industry will also need to get ready to become certified actors to support governments as they create new u-space airspaces.
One of the stipulations in the new u-space regulations requires a number of different services, or u-space service providers (USSP) to begin safe operations. This includes things like common information service providers and remote-ID, so commercial stakeholders need to start preparing to enter this market through various certifications. There are already a few organisations working on this, so if the industry could pull together as a collective, it means that there is more hope for faster and safer implementation within the next few months to years.
The Hamburg sandbox: Europe’s first u-space?
While there has been a lot of talk in the news about different trials related to u-space airspaces, one of the most notable ones is the Hamburg u-space sandbox.
Two drone organisations have developed recommendations for the establishment of u-space airspaces in Hamburg that are based on a research project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Digital Affairs and Transport. The recommendations include setting up u-space airspaces in model regions and establishing a regulatory framework and environments for complex airspaces with both active uncrewed and uncrewed air traffic.
These recommendations have been tested in real-time conditions above the port of Hamburg and will serve as a blueprint for their introduction across Germany in 2023. The work has provided valuable insights into establishing u-space airspaces and expanding their scope to efficiently enable the safe use of drones in logistics, agriculture, and supplying remote areas with materials or transporting vital medical equipment.
BVLOS operations throughout Europe
Beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations are at the top of everyone’s mind after the implementation of the new u-space regulations. Still, it’s important to factor in other aspects of BVLOS operations like remote-ID and the other u-space services mandated by the new regulations.
Remote-ID functions as a foundational service that u-space can be built on, but there are also a number of other different requirements and standards that need to be followed, which is why the Murzilli Consulting team has partnered with Baringa Consulting in the United Kingdom to help support the government in their implementation of remote-ID services. The general idea is for governments to “create a world where compliance is possible” for all stakeholders.
Remote-ID also enables stakeholders like the police to see who is flying legally and find those who are flying illegally, which often are people unaware of which regulations are in place. This might just be a parent and their child flying in a restricted area without realising it. The police can issue warnings and even require unsuspecting drone pilots to get additional training or revoke flying privileges for repeat offenders. When this type of trust is established, BVLOS operations at scale will be easier because it enables a full cultural shift in society to happen along with advanced technological innovation.
You can imagine the cultural shift will start by building credibility slowly through safe and valuable operations like medical supply deliveries between hospitals, search and rescue efforts and agricultural applications. This can help create acceptance in other areas like food delivery, which would eventually lead to advanced air mobility (AAM). Of course, there are organisations already doing this, but at scale, it will take time.
The future of drones in Europe
Lorenzo ended the discussion by talking about how the first step is proving to investors that drone operations at scale are not only viable but that they are also profitable. Investors now are cautious due to the uncertainty currently in the market, but this can prove to be a hidden advantage for drone organisations looking for funding because it goes past just a simple proof of concept.
They will need to push themselves to take on new challenges in the market and move the drone industry into the spotlight to show what we’re capable of. Lorenzo said this is likely to continue into 2023 and possibly the beginning of 2024 depending on a number of factors we currently cannot foresee.
One way to do this is to prove that drone operations can empower one pilot to operate multiple drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) and in a repetitive way. This way, organisations have a good way of providing proof of profitability while governments work at creating u-spaces that enable scalability.
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