Brussels launches U-space incubator to help keep drone operations safe, secure and green

Brussels has launched a European network for drone demonstration projects designed to become a forum to help keep drone operations safe, secure and green.

It will focus on the so-called U-space: Europe’s solution to link all drones in the air and makes them visible to both authorities and citizens.

“Drone and U-space projects are already delivering results on how to fly drones safely and how the developing U-space system can become more reliably robust. Yet these U-space projects are only sustainable and will only attract additional investment if the found solutions are compatible with the European framework,” the Commission said in a statement.

The Drones Helsinki Declaration urged all stakeholders to commit to open the EU drones commercial services market as soon as 2019. This will require an accelerated development and deployment of drone traffic management solutions.
The services embodied in the U-space are pivotal assets for the timely delivery of the operational capability and the scalability of cost-effective drone services and cross-border operations. The provision of U-space services will be gradually developed based on local market demand and, as highlighted during the Helsinki conference, the coming months are crucial for companies to assess fast evolving investment opportunities in drone and U-space services.
Large-scale demonstrations are key to build further confidence in safe drone operations and the U-space concept and to support the regulatory developments. They are an opportunity to involve innovative actors including SMEs and new entrants.

The new European Network of U-space Demonstrators should help support these projects. A support cell to the network will bundle the regulatory and safety competence of the European Aviation Safety Agency, the R&D management expertise of the SESAR Joint Undertaking and the technical and operational air traffic management expertise of EUROCONTROL.

These organisations have been tasked with working closely together to develop concrete material to support these projects and the authorities that will have to approve the drone operations.

The network will focus specifically on projects with a clear business case that build on mature technologies, but need some further operational and regulatory demonstrations before starting commercial operations. The network would also support the competent authorities in processing the numerous applications that can be expected once commercial businesses will be started.

The network is open to all U-space projects that help opening up the European drone services market and support the European regulatory development. Projects funded under the SESAR Joint Undertaking and with initiatives of the European Innovation Partnership in Smart Cities and Communities will automatically become members of the Network. The SESAR Joint Undertaking has just awarded funding to another six demonstrators which aim to show the readiness of U-space services to manage a broad range of drone operations and related services, and their interaction with manned aviation.

EU transport commissioner Violeta Bulc said: Drones are a key part of the future of aviation and will become part of our daily lives. All players can mutually learn and exchange practical expertise to keep drone operations safe, secure and clean. That exactly is the purpose of this EU wide network.”

The launch event was hosted by the Port Authority of Antwerp, the Belgian air navigation service provider Belgocontrol, and the U-space technology provider Unifly – all three also being part of the network.

A first overview of activities of the Network will be presented at the next High-Level Conference on Drones in Amsterdam in November 2018.