The drone service industry has been rapidly growing in the past decade. In Europe alone, the market value of the drone service sector will exceed 10 billion EUR annually by 2035. The European Drones Outlook Study estimated that as many as 400 000 drones will be providing services in the airspace by 2050. Understanding the potential of this industry in Europe, the European Commission launched U-Space in 2016 – an initiative aimed at safely integrating drones into the airspace.
What is U-Space?
SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) defines U-Space as: “A set of services and procedures relying on a high level of digitalization and automation of functions to support safe, efficient and secure access to airspace for large numbers of drones. It provides an enabling framework to support routine drone operations and addresses all types of missions including operations in and around airports. Ultimately, U-space will enable complex drone operations with a high degree of automation to take place in all types of operational environments.”
U-Space will combine several technologies, both ground-based and onboard, to automate drones as much as possible in a safe and secure manner. With systems such as drone tracking, geofencing, datalink, and dynamic mission management, future drones in Europe are expected to adhere to an extremely high standard of operation and safety.
How Will U-Space Work?
U-Space services will be offered to both private (leisure and professional) and public users of drones, for all types of missions. These services will work in accordance with ATCs (Air Traffic Controllers) by providing them essential data. This will facilitate a proper interface with ATCs, and additional services such as flight planning assistance, tracking, etc.
The U-Space services will become available to the public under four categories:
U1 Foundation Services
The U1 services are the basic operational services which all drones must comply with. The U1 services will cover E-Registration, E-Identification, Geofencing, and DAIM (Drone Aeronautical Information Management).
U2 Initial Services
U2 services support the management of drone operations and may include flight planning, flight approval, tracking, airspace dynamic information, and procedural interfaces with air traffic control.
U2 is the main block of U-Space as it covers about 23 critical flight management services. U2 covers the following services:
U3 Advanced Services
U3 services will support more complex drone operations in all kinds of environments. These include capacity management and assistance for conflict detection, along with DAA (Detect and Avoid) functionalities.
U4 Full Services
These services cover drone operations of utmost importance as they offer an integrated interface with manned aviation. U4 supports the full operational capability of U-space and will rely on a very high level of automation, connectivity, and digitalization for both the drone and the U-space system. The trend here is that as the level of services increases the connectivity proportionally increases as well.
Benefits of the U-Space System
The European drone industry and economy would greatly reap the benefits of this system. From drone operators to everyday citizens, U-Space services could gradually change the European society. Here’s how different individuals would benefit from this system:
- Offer fair, flexible & open access to the airspace.
- Open up drone services market.
- Maintain control over airspace.
- Ensure privacy, safety, security & environmental protection.
- Enforce registration & identification of drones.
- Protect safety & security critical areas.
- Offer new & innovative drone services
- Ensure safe & secure drone operations
- Safeguard privacy & ensure environmental protection (noise & visual pollution)
- Enabling the development of new business models
- Spurring jobs & market growth
- Support move towards automation & digitalisation
When will U-Space services be available?
At present only one out of the four services is completely ready for launch. The U1 Foundation Services are in their rollout phase since 2019 and have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are expected to complete the rollout phase by the end of 2021.
As for the U2 Initial Services, which forms the main U-Space block, SESAR is carrying out demonstration projects to test its workings. About 10 demonstration drone projects have been carried out until now. Once satisfactory demonstrations are successfully completed, U2 services will begin rollout.
The U3 and U4 services are still in their early development phase with ongoing R&D. The committee is testing projects and improving these services to be launched much later.