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Unmanned Aerial Systems in European Airspace

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Unlocking civil unmanned aerial vehicles market

An EU-funded project has developed a comprehensive set of recommendations for the incremental insertion of light remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) in European airspace.

Industrial Technologies

While the exploitation of unmanned aerial vehicles for military applications has grown exponentially in recent years, the same trend has not been followed by the civil sector. The civil RPAS market is small and its impact on European airspace industry is limited. This is partly due to the absence of an RPAS-friendly sky policy, delaying the integration of RPAS in the European airspace. To redress this imbalance, the 'Unmanned aerial systems in European airspace' (ULTRA) project was funded by the EU to provide recommendations for the potential insertion of unmanned aerial systems in the air transport system. During its 18-month lifetime, a consortium of 12 organisations from across Europe reviewed all aspects related to RPAS. The main objectives were to formulate a master plan based on existing infrastructures for the incremental insertion of civil RPAS (with operating mass up to 150 kg) in the European airspace by 2017. On the other hand, specific recommendations were provided for developing a business case for selected uses of RPAS in innovation applications, with the objective to accelerate the integration. The ULTRA partners also aimed to lay the groundwork to unlock the full potential of the civil RPAS market in the next 10-15 years. To address these objectives, the project was organised into five work packages addressing the regulatory and certification base, the adaptation of existing infrastructures, safety issues, the social impact as well as the economic effects on European airspace industry. Through the definition of four business cases, the work in each aspect of RPAS was focused on 'quick win' scenarios. Nine technical reports addressing the different aspects covered in the ULTRA project were ultimately produced along with the final report. In the latter, the research work conducted is described against all developments that have occurred in the light RPAS domain since this sub-set of unmanned aerial vehicles was first introduced. The ULTRA project proved to be challenging but also fruitful within the constraints posed by the rapidly evolving light RPAS market. Extended debate on a number of issues between the members of the large and varied consortium led to more robust results and concrete recommendations. The technical reports can be accessed via the ULTRA project website, which also provides a detailed description of the consortium and other material related to the project results.


Unmanned aviation, remotely piloted aircraft systems, European airspace, airspace industry, sky policy

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