U-Space – The EU’s Evolving Plan for UAVs and UAM
The Single European Sky Air Traffic Modernization Research (SESAR) Project is working to develop policies to facilitate the European Commission’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy. SESAR will define, deploy, and develop technologies to create an air traffic management system throughout the European Union (EU) for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), including drones and air taxis.
First established in 2000, SESAR is a public-private partnership envisioned as a three-phase project. The original plan called for a Definition Phase (2004-2008), a Development Phase (2008-2013), and a Deployment Phase (2014-2020).
A Phased Approach
Phase I was to be led by Eurocontrol and co-funded by the European Commission under the Trans-European Transport Networks program (which ceased operations in December 2013). Execution of Phase I relied upon a consortium of all air transport stakeholders.
Phase II, originally budgeted €2.1 billion (about US$2.35 billion), was intended to produce the technological systems and components required to operate the system.
Phase III would see large-scale production and implementation of the new air traffic management (ATM) infrastructure, harmonizing these systems and optimizing them for optimal performance across the EU airspace.
While there was no Phase IV as part of the initial plan, The SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking now has a 10-year mandate (from 2021-2031) which plans on coordinating the Horizon Europe Program (2021-2027) and followed by four years (2027-2031) to complete the work outlined in the Multiannual Work Program.
In a presentation prepared by the European Commission, the agency illustrated and described U-Space as “A Combination of Safety Means.”
The Four Phases of SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking
The four phases planned for implementation between 2027-2031 are:
U1: U-space foundation services covering e-registration, e-identification, and geofencing.
U2: U-space initial services for drone operations management, including flight planning, flight approval, tracking, and interfacing with conventional air traffic control.
U3: U-space advanced services supporting more complex operations in dense areas such as assistance for conflict detection and automated detect and avoid functionalities.
U4: U-space full services, offering very high levels of automation, connectivity, and digitalization for both the drone and the U-space system.
Since being renamed as the Digital European Sky, the initiative is working at solving the challenge of integrating conventional aircraft, UAVs, air taxis, and vehicles which fly at higher altitudes as it aims to make the European airspace the world leader in efficiency and sustainability.
The Digital European Sky’s program’s portfolio includes: Connected and Automated ATM, Air-Ground Integration and Autonomy, Capacity and On-Demand Airspace, Virtualization and Cyber-Secure On-Demand Data Sharing, AI for Aviation, U-Space and Urban Air Mobility, and, Civil/military Interoperability and Coordination.
As UAM moves further from futuristic vision to everyday reality, the need for a U-Space program emerged. The EU, along with other airspace management agencies worldwide, are working to ensure a safe experience for all.
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