The increasing number of drones operating in the airspace has forced the aviation sector to rethink the concept of Air Traffic Management. In Europe, the European Commission has launched the concept of U-Space, a set of decentralized services created to integrate drones in the airspace and to enable them to operate together with manned aircraft. In Switzerland, several stakeholders have worked on products and services linked to U-Space. With the view to ensure transparency and inclusiveness, the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) has facilitated the creation of the Swiss U-Space Implementation (SUSI) platform.
Rapidly evolving technologies, as well as the societal need to develop smarter and greener mobility and to improve existing processes have accelerated the development of the civil drone market. The increase of complex operations such as mapping, search and rescue, disaster relief or package delivery have pushed the range of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) beyond operations conducted in visual line of sight. With the increasing density of these operations, the need to integrate UAS into airspace has been recognised worldwide. This need has led to the creation of a UAS Traffic Management (UTM) in USA, which in Europe is referred to as U-Space.
The U-Space is a set of services and specific procedures enabling a safe, efficient, sustainable and secure integration of UAS into airspace. These services rely on a high level of digitalisation and automation of functions, which enable complex operations with low human workload. Harmonized standards worldwide are key for a dynamic drone sector, as legal certainty is needed to enable investment. According to the European Commission, the drone industry will represent up to 10 percent of the aviation market within the next 10 years what explains the objective of Europe to be at the forefront of setting global standards in the domain. Moreover, the European Commission identified that “the infrastructure, software and data to build a U-Space are already available. The challenge is to integrate the existing building blocks into a genuine efficient system and, at the same time, tackle safety, security and environmental concerns” (Commissioner Bulc presents plans for the creation of a European drone services market, European Commission, 2016).
On the 28th of February 2019, Europe agreed on a set of rules and procedures to operate drones. These rules will replace the national regulatory frameworks in force today and will need to be implemented by Member States and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) until mid-2020. Subsequently, the European Commission, together with EASA have agreed to work in “close cooperation with Member States, to develop, as a matter of urgency, an institutional, regulatory and architectural framework for a competitive U-space services market” (Drones Amsterdam Declaration, EASA, 2018).
The Swiss U-Space Implementation
In Switzerland, the implementation of the different technologies required is already ongoing. This work is inspired by the US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) UTM concept of operations and the work of Concept of Operation for European UTM System (CORUS) and has resulted in the current Swiss U-Space Concept of Operation (SUSCO).
A Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) governs the interaction between the different stakeholders. Any such entity fulfilling the roles set forth therein and intending to positively contribute to the development of the Swiss U-Space can apply to join the SUSI. As of March 2019, the following industries have signed the MoC: Skyguide, Airmap, Swisscom, Involi, Sensefly, Wing, Auterion, Altitude Angel, Flarm Technology, Aurora Swiss Aerospace Orbitalize, Drone Harmony, Unisphere, Innov-ATM, Droit, DroneAnalytics, ANRA Technologies.
The users of the U-Space are not expected to be part of the SUSI. However, users with special needs like the police, the military, Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) and others are included in a special user group under the UAS-Integration program and provide their requirements to the SUSI.