Head of Research at the Royal Aeronautical Society, Professor Keith Hayward provides analysis of the EC's recently published Roadmap for the integration of civil Remotely-Piloted Aircraft Systems into the European Aviation Systems. Can Europe unlock civilian skies for a brand-new unmanned aerospace sector? [caption id="attachment_8370" align="alignnone" width="346"] The Paris Air Show also saw European aerospace industry call for a joint MALE UAV project. (Cassidian).[/caption] The European Commission has just published a Roadmap for the integration of civil Remotely-Piloted Aircraft Systems into the European Aviation Systems, outlining a staged approach to the integration of UAS platforms into civilian airspace. The paper asserts that this will “bring aviation into the realm of the third industrial revolution”. The aim is ultimately to replace the current highly restricted case-by-case approval for UAS operations with a “seamless regulatory framework”, fusing the various R&D initiatives underway in Europe. The process will be “gradual and evolutionary” matching regulatory relaxation to developments in technology and societal acceptance. While the main focus of the Roadmap is vehicles weighing less than 150kg (seen as the primary platform for civil applications), the proposals would also go a long way towards resolving the problems that have, for example stymied EuroHawk deployment in Europe. The non-defence portion of the UAS market remains small and specialised, and remains constrained by airspace controls and other regulation issues. To date, a number of police users and civil operators of “line of sight” vehicles excepted, military customers have been the primary market for UAS products. Compared to a conventional platform, UAS use cannot yet compete on a single mission basis – a fixed wing platform can cover a much greater area – but for frequent missions the cost differential is much less and trends are moving in the direction of the UAS option. The most likely civil markets for UAS platforms will echo those of the military – “dirty, dull and/or dangerous” – police surveillance, fire mapping, border security, real estate photography, and coverage of natural disasters. Satisfying this new customer base may well require a radically different approach to the conventional aerospace market. For example while surveying will be a particularly important market, especially in large or remote areas, customers may also demand a range of new, integrated services. As in the space sector, increasing platform availability and capability will generate a new wave of “downstream” applications where the platform hardware comprises a relatively small element in the total value chain. Expansion into civil markets will therefore depend on including UAS in the regulatory environment, and the speed of adaptation and adoption may well determine the winners and losers in the civil UAS market. The US FAA is already moving to create guidelines and standards for UAS use. A general rule on the integration of small UAS into the national airspace is expected by the summer of 2014 and to complete their safe integration by 2016. The EU Road Map is an important step forward in the development of a European UAS industry, but in order fully to exploit the emerging civil market, the region will have to sort out its approach generally to UAS activity. The continuing failure to harmonise competing national UAS programmes will hinder the emergence of a vital common core of technological solutions that will be needed to enable civil UAS operations in controlled airspace.   In September, the Royal Aeronautical Society will be examining this topic in detail with the UAS Annual Conference - Unmanned Aviation: Challenges for Growth.  For more details on this headline conference click here.    

Tim Robinson
5 July 2013