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European Concept of operations for Higher airspace Operations

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ECHO (European Concept of operations for Higher airspace Operations)

Reporting period: 2020-11-01 to 2021-10-31

The Higher Airspace extends the interface region between Air Traffic Management (ATM) and Space Traffic Management (STM), which have to interact with each other to accommodate an increased number of spacecraft during their flights through regular airspace. The diversity of operating modes in the Higher Airspace region poses a challenge for an efficient management of flights while ensuring operational safety at all times. The mission profiles and technical requirements for the vehicles deployed in this environment will make it difficult to rely on established standards and processes. New, yet reliable and interoperable procedures, traffic management techniques, communication methods and monitoring tools are needed.
The ambition is to develop a comprehensive, innovative and feasible ConOps for HAO enabling near term and future operations in a safe and orderly manner including safe and efficient interactions with Air Traffic Management and Space Traffic Management.
Many current SESAR solutions are targeted for the human centric ATM system and are constrained by global legacy implementations (e.g. airborne equipment) and related complex transition strategies. The Higher Airspace including the operators forms a new, almost legacy-free environment enabling an expeditious uptake of innovations or, extrapolated SESAR solutions. In this way the Higher Airspace could become an incubator environment for future ATM. Whereas the Higher Airspace is sovereign airspace, the provision of HAO Traffic Management, should be at pan-European level interfacing with surrounding regions. This is ground breaking and part of the ambition for this project.
The ECHO project will provide a significant step forward towards achieving international approvals and opening up operations across Europe, providing world recognition in discussions with global actors, such as the FAA, and help to support European industry which faces increasing competition from the US and China. This project adopts a holistic approach and is designing a concept that for the first time takes into account all operational participants in the Higher Airspace region. This includes the necessary interfaces to ATM and STM and considers their further development as they are designed for ATM in the SESAR ATM Master Plan. The design goes beyond the state of the art by extrapolating the demand development for different scenarios up to 2040. It will consider current vehicle concepts as well as development of technologies and services in the coming decades.
The project is a key enabler for the economic development of various commercial concepts that will only be possible by using the Higher Airspace environment. Current obstacles to access relevant altitudes and uncertainties regarding the requirements for future users of this airspace will be removed. Moreover, the expected growth of interest in access and use of Higher Airspace and the partly conflicting interests of the different types of users can be mitigated by the operational concept to be developed.
• The ECHO project was launched after the pandemic started. This has complicated the start and of the project and moreover constrained team building. Despite this situation, the project has made a good start and delivered the Project Management Plan (PMP).
• Since Higher Airspace Operations is highly innovative and since informing society was raised as an expectation during the Grant development phase, significant effort has been spent on setting up a public website ( and issuing a news letter. In addition several presentations were given to various audiences and articles were published in professional magazines.
• An Advisory Board has been set-up with strategic participation to advise the project. Setting the Advisory Board included agreement is signature of Non-Disclosure Agreements by all the AB members and all the Consortium Members. Until now a total of 4 meetings took place.
• The EASA has established a Regulatory Task Force on Higher Airspace Operations. ECHO is represented as an observer in this TF to ensure close coordination. In addition ECHO is represented in the Commission’s Inter-Institutional Group on HAO and contributed to the development of an European Roadmap.
• A total of 5 Project Management Board meetings with all consortium partners have taken place. Moreover a virtual social event (ECHO Café) was organised.
• The first ECHO Workshop took place 29/6 – 1/7 as a virtual event with plenary sessions and break-out sessions. Prior to the workshop, pre-workshop material was distributed as well as a questionnaire. The event was attended by 150+ participants and received good feedback.
• Research and Document analysis collected many publications, articles etc. In total 144 were collected. An interactive database has been developed for easy access/analysis of this information. Moreover an analysis took place of the collected information focused at the application for ConOps development. The results have been published in a formal deliverable.
• Through the Vehicles and Operation work package, ECHO has collected a significant amount of information on current and planned vehicles and their operational characteristics. Prior to this a template was designed to ensure that all relevant information would be collected. The initial results were presented to the first workshop for validation. This part of ECHO has encountered delays due to the difficulties in getting access to commercial sensitive information and due to resource issues. This delay had a ripple on effect on the ConOps development work and the ECHO timescales as a whole.
• Initial work took place on the ConOps development. The focus was on Principles and Assumptions to be applied during the development of the ConOps. The work was based on the outcomes of the 2019 European Symposium on HAO. Multiple sessions were held including during Workshop 1. Although not a formal ECHO deliverable, the project published the ECHO principles and assumptions document.
The project will deliver the ConOps for the Higher Airspace traffic management. Fundamental principles such as safety and environmental standards especially for manned aviation will be applied as leading principles for the ConOps.
The ConOps will specify a phased and evolving concept synchronised with the evolution of demand in order to efficiently guide the evolution of HAO Traffic Management. Expected impacts of HAO will enable a boost of applications contributing to a sustainable society, human connectivity and security. Substantial impacts are:
• Market access for innovative concepts,
• Safeguarding the use of Higher Airspace for emerging commercial space operators,
• Clarity in the requirements to the users, safeguarding of necessary technological investments,
• New Earth Observation and remote sensing services providing persistence and flexibility to complement existing satellite and (un) manned aircraft operations in a growing market estimated to be 4bn EURO pa by 2026, the 18bn EURO pa, telecommunication services market, alternative means of high speed transportation for goods and passengers, HAO based 5G Internet Of Things (IOT) wide area services,
• Environmental benefits through increased use of solar electric platforms and services to persistently monitor and reduce the environmental impact from greenhouse gases, wildfires and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
ECHO Website