In Europe, the United States and countries around the world, drone technology is advancing rapidly, and what used to be considered toys are quickly becoming powerful commercial tools that can provide enormous benefits in terms of safety and efficiency. However, before some of the most innovative drone applications can become reality, including things like package delivery and long-range infrastructure inspections, most countries, particularly those with more congested airspace, will need some form of a low-altitude traffic management system to ensure drones can avoid colliding with buildings, manned aircraft, or one another.  Developing such a safety system will be critical to unlocking the most promising drone applications of the future.

Last month the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research Joint Undertaking (“SESAR“), the organisation set up in 2007 to coordinate European research and development activities on air traffic management (“ATM“), unveiled its blueprint for automated air navigation technologies for low altitude drones operating in complex airspace.

The blueprint fleshes out the European Commission’s plans for a “U Space” – an area of urban airspace up to 150m that is actively managed by technology to allow for “safe, efficient and secure access to [urban] airspace for large numbers of drones.”

The proposal was first announced by Violeta Bulc, the European Commissioner for Transport, at a conference in Warsaw last year.

The Commission hopes that “U Space” will provide similar functions to those provided by the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS” or drone) Traffic Management (“UTM”) system being developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”), the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) and global industry partners in the United States for enabling safe, efficient low-altitude drone operations.

What is U-Space, and what does SESAR’s blueprint mean for drone users?

SESAR expects that “U Space” will initially provide a system for the e-registration and e-identification of drones. It also hopes that “U Space” technology will allow certain restricted sites to be geo-fenced by air service navigation providers.

These proposals are not new. On 12 May 2017 the European Aviation Safety Agency (“EASA“) opened its formal consultation into regulatory changes requiring certain UAS to be registered and licensed. You can read our previous blog on that consultation (and the proposed regulatory changes) here.

In the future, SESAR intends for “U Space” to provide flight planning and approval services, drone tracking and “conflict detection” functions as well a means of interfacing UAS traffic management with conventional air traffic control systems.

SESAR hopes that “U Space” when fully operational will “encourage innovation, support the development of new businesses and facilitate the overall growth of the European drone services market.” It also expects that “U Space” technology will allow a number of drone operations that are currently restricted to be liberalised.

When will “U Space” be implemented?

SESAR has divided “U Space” into four implementation phases:

  • Phase 1: providing e-registration, identification and geo-fencing services;
  • Phase 2: providing flight planning and approval services, interfacing with conventional air traffic control, and providing flight tracking and “automated airspace information” services(i.e. warning when cranes are or other temporary obstacles are erected);
  • Phase 3: providing capacity management and conflict detection technologies (SESAR suggests that this will allow for a “significant increase” in UAS operations); and
  • Phase 4: fully integrating drone air traffic control with manned aviation.

The European Commission and SESAR have made clear that they expect “U Space” Phase 1 by the end of 2019; and SESAR has suggested that “pre-operational […] demonstrations” of Phase 2 will also be available by that time. Neither the European Commission nor SESAR have indicated when they expect Phases 3 and 4 to become fully operational.

Drone technology has advanced rapidly over the last decade, and this technology has become a valuable tool for many industries on a global scale.  The commercial and consumer uses for drones have grown exponentially, and the industry is poised to see aggressive growth.

With commercial and hobbyist drones filling our skies, policymakers have increasingly expressed security concerns. How can law enforcement mitigate potential threats? What security concerns do flights over people, beyond visual line of sight, and at night pose – and are there technology solutions that can mitigate security risks and help enable broader operations? How can industry contribute to the federal government policy conversation around domestic drone security? Continue Reading Commercial Drone Alliance Issues Statement on June 28th Domestic Drone Security Summit

Following serious incidents of civilian drones entering the airspace of Chinese airports and causing flight delays last April, China’s civil aviation authority has issued the Real-name Registration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Administrative Provisions, with effect from May 16, 2017, in an effort to increase accountability for drone use by requiring owners and manufacturers of civilian-use unmanned aircraft systems to complete “real-name” registration procedures. Continue Reading Real-name registration requirement imposed for civilian-use drones in China

In a ruling issued today, the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the FAA’s Registration Rule for small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones) that are operated for recreational purposes, otherwise known as “model aircraft.” If the ruling stands, hobbyist and recreational drone enthusiasts will no longer be required to register their drones with the FAA.  The ruling does not affect existing requirements for commercial operators to register their UAS with the FAA. Continue Reading BREAKING: DC Court of Appeals Strikes Down FAA Drone Registration Rule for Hobbyists

On 12 May 2017 the European Aviation Safety Agency (“EASA“) opened a consultation into sweeping new regulations on the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS” or drones) in European airspace. Individuals and companies that are interested in the future of UAS operations in the European Union (“EU”) should carefully review the Notice of Proposed Amendment and consider participating in the review process by submitting comments and letting EASA know their views on all aspects of the proposed regulations.

Under the current regulations, EASA only regulates large UAS with a maximum take-off weight of 150kg or more and the regulation of UAS with a maximum take-off weight of less than 150 kg is reserved to Member States. The European Commission and European Parliament are currently trying to extend the EU’s regulatory competences (jurisdiction) to include authority over all UAS weighing more than 250g. EASA’s new proposal will likely spur debate among industry stakeholders over whether this new and innovative technology should be regulated more broadly by EASA or by the individual Member States.    Continue Reading New EASA Consultation: Are Drone Pilots Heading for a Period of Regulatory Turbulence?

Part 107, the rule broadly authorizing commercial UAS (drone) operations, was an important step forward for the commercial UAS industry.  However, Part 107 limited operations in important ways.  One significant limitation surrounds flights over people.  Under current FAA regulations, flights over people other than the UAS flightcrew are prohibited.  This prohibition creates significant obstacles for commercial UAS operators, especially those that typically need to occur in more urban and suburban environments, such as media and newsgathering activities, real estate, infrastructure inspection and, someday, package delivery, will require the flexibility to operate over people. Continue Reading New FAA-Commissioned Report on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Human Collision Hazards May Support Broader Approval for UAS Flights Over People

Germany has introduced a new “Regulation for the Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems” (“Drone-Regulation“). On 7 April 2017, the new Drone-Regulation entered into force adapting national legislation to the risk-based approach of the European Union and setting the way for innovative technologies. However, the new rules also contain identification and qualification obligations as well as strict authorisation requirements for specific operations of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”).

Some aspects of Germany’s new UAS regulations parallel the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) Small UAS Rule (Part 107) that went into effect in the United States last August. Similar to the rules adopted by the FAA, Germany’s new UAS regulations place general restrictions on operating UAS beyond visual line of sight (“BVLOS”) and limit operations over people. Notably, however, Germany’s new regulations also provide a pathway for authorizing more advanced commercial UAS operations that go beyond the scope of the regulations in circumstances where it is safe to do so. This is similar to the waiver process adopted by the FAA in Part 107 for authorizing operations beyond the scope of the rule. Continue Reading Sky full of drones – Germany opens up for new drone opportunities as it introduces its new UAS Regulation

White House Open to Stakeholder Meetings about Drone Operations Over People

In a major new development, the FAA has just sent to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) the proposed rulemaking for performance-based standards and means-of-compliance for the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or so-called “drones”) over unsheltered people not directly participating in the operation.

This is big news and an important step in moving drone policymaking forward. As most of you likely know, the current Part 107, which went into effect in August, does not allow for flights over unsheltered people not directly participating in the operation – in other words, anyone other than your remote pilot, visual observer, or anyone else essential to the flight operation. Continue Reading Big News: Proposed Small UAS Rule for Flights Over People at White House for Review

The split of competences between the European Union (“EU”) and its Member States has been a point of friction in the setting out of the future European rules on unmanned aircraft system (“UAS”). In December 2015, the European Commission advocated in its Aviation Strategy for the need for a common regulatory framework across the EU to ensure a single European UAS market. The European Aviation Safety Agency (“EASA”), headquartered in Cologne (Germany), would play a crucial role in defining the common European standards. Continue Reading The European Parliament pushes for an EU-wide regulation for UAS

On September 21, Hogan Lovells’ Unmanned Aircraft Systems lawyers Lisa Ellman, Patrick Rizzi, Matthew Clark, and Elizabeth Meer presented a webinar on Drones on Campus: Navigating the FAA’s New Small UAS Rule.

Colleges and universities across the country are finding new and innovative ways to use unmanned aircraft or “drones.” To name just a few, higher education institutions are using drones to support research and learning in areas like precision agriculture, wildlife habitat monitoring, and aerial surveying and mapping. They are using drones to film football practices, inspect their infrastructure, and shoot promo marketing videos. Continue Reading Drones on Campus: Navigating the FAA’s New Small UAS Rule