Civilian Use of Drones in the EU - European Union Committee Contents


Role of SESAR JU

119.  The Communication proposes that the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU) should co-ordinate research and development (R&D) to develop the key technologies required to integrate RPAS into non-segregated airspace. It states that SESAR JU is "uniquely placed" to co-ordinate the different research programmes carried out by various EU agencies, such as the European Commission, EUROCONTROL, the European Defence Agency, and the European Space Agency, and to pave the way towards a gradual and smooth integration of RPAS.[141]

120.  In addition, the Communication promises to define specific actions under Horizon 2020 and COSME[142] to support the development of the RPAS market, involving in particular SMEs. The Commission would co-ordinate these activities with SESAR JU, "to avoid overlapping and leverage on the available resources".[143]

Box 2: Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU)
SESAR JU is a public-private partnership, created in 2004 in order to develop the technological capacity to deliver the goals of the EU's Single European Sky programme. The Single European Sky aims to increase the capacity of the airspace and reduce the cost of air traffic management across Europe while increasing safety. In doing so, it will start to modify responsibilities between technology, air traffic managers and flight crew. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently carrying out a similar project in the USA, called 'NextGen'.

The total estimated cost of the development phase of SESAR JU was €2.1 billion, with funding provided equally by the European Commission, EUROCONTROL and the aviation industry. SESAR JU entered the last of its three phases in 2014, and is scheduled to continue until 2020. Its remit has recently been widened to include research into RPAS.

121.  We welcome the Commission's support for the development and incorporation of key technologies, which will encourage the growth of the RPAS industry.

Developing new technologies and regulatory uncertainty

122.  The Communication states that some of the key technologies required to allow for the safe integration of RPAS into non-segregated airspace are not available. It therefore proposes that research at the EU level should focus on the validation of these technologies, and be efficiently coordinated in order to keep the lead times for their development as short as possible. Without this, the Communication suggests that the EU will continue to be overshadowed in the global RPAS manufacturing market by the current leaders, the USA and Israel, as well as newer competitors such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.[144]

123.  The Government, the Commission, the CAA, Gary Clayton, UAVS, and Ray Mann, CEO of West Wales Airport, all highlighted a 'chicken and egg' problem. On the one hand, regulators were unable to define precise regulations without understanding the new RPAS technologies and procedures that would be employed to account for the removal of the pilot from the cockpit. On the other hand industry was reluctant to invest in developing the required enabling technologies because of the uncertainty over how the technology would be regulated.[145] The requirements to test new technologies rigorously, to ensure that they are safe to use, meant that there was a long lead time between identifying a technology need, its development and the point where it could make a commercial return. Ray Mann said that this regulatory uncertainty was undermining investment in RPAS development:

    "This waiting game has been going on for 10 years in the industry, and it has prevented a lot of companies from investing in research and development and taking a capability to demonstration and to market to enable systems to be produced".[146]

The technologies needed

124.  In addition to the regulatory challenges outlined in Chapters 3 and 4, potential applications for RPAS are currently not possible without the development of certain technologies. For example, the delivery of a light parcel by a small RPAS in a town or city would require technology enabling the RPAS to fly beyond the visual line of sight of the pilot. The RPAS would need to detect and avoid objects such as trees, lamp posts and people without pilot assistance. Moreover, if a number of RPAS deliveries were scheduled for a similar time in one area, a system to co-ordinate the traffic of small RPAS in the airspace would be needed. To guarantee the safety of the operation, the control link between the RPAS carrying the parcel and the pilot would have to be secure. A loss in connection could result in an accident. When scaled up, these challenges are similar to those facing the use of large RPAS to transport cargo, and this helps to explain why commercial operations for large RPAS are not yet available in the UK or Europe.


125.  'Detect and avoid' (DAA, also referred to as 'sense and avoid') refers to the ability of an aircraft to avoid mid-air collisions. The Government said: "The development of an effective DAA system is key to the safe integration of RPAS" into the airspace.[147] AM-UAS Ltd said: "Based on our knowledge of the sector, we feel that [Detect] and Avoid technology will be a turning point in what is possible with RPAS. It will be this that allows the large scale integration of unmanned aircraft into controlled airspace, and over much longer distances".[148]

126.  Currently manned commercial aircraft weighing five tonnes or more are required to have a Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS). This system is intended to support the aircraft's pilot, who is still legally responsible for 'seeing and avoiding' other aircraft. TCAS relies on the use of a transponder and only works with other "co-operative" aircraft that also have transponders.[149] If two large aircraft with TCAS detect each other, the respective TCAS systems communicate to co-ordinate actions to avoid collision. However, the system will not detect a smaller general aviation aircraft without a transponder.

127.  Large RPAS will have to operate in a similar way to current manned aircraft and have technology which can be detected by manned aircraft. Thales UK said that RPAS would have to "carry a requisite level of equipment appropriate to the class of airspace they intend to operate. This will include special equipment such as a Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR) Transponder as well as an approved method of aerial collision avoidance."[150]

128.  Witnesses emphasised that detect and avoid system for large RPAS would have to go beyond the existing technology used in TCAS, because it would also have to detect objects which did not carry transponders. By way of example, Denis Koehl, Senior Adviser for Military Affairs, SESAR JU, said that paragliders, who fly below 500ft, do not carry technology to assist in their detection by aircraft.[151] AeroSynergy Certification Ltd confirmed that "a Detect and Avoid system must be able to automatically take evasive action with or without the RPAS pilot in the loop." It also said that, given the potentially catastrophic consequences of a detect and avoid system failing on an RPAS, such systems should "be assigned the highest levels of software development assurance and systems availability and integrity."[152]

129.  A number of UK aerospace companies have responded to the need to develop and certify detect and avoid technology by collaborating with Government on a research project to demonstrate and test this technology on a large RPAS. This project, ASTRAEA, is described in Box 3.

ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation & Assessment) is a UK industry-led consortium focusing on the technologies, systems, facilities, procedures and regulations that will allow highly automated vehicles to operate safely and routinely in civil airspace over the UK. The programme, which began in 2006 and concluded its second stage in March 2013, had a budget of £62 million, comprising government and private sector funding. The project consortium included Agent Orientated Software Limited (AOS), BAE Systems, Airbus Defence & Space, Cobham, QinetiQ, Rolls Royce and Thales.

Part of the programme, Separation Assurance and Control, focused on detect and avoid technology. It also tested the technologies required to control the aircraft from a ground control station and the integrity and security of the data link. The other element of the programme, Autonomy and Decision Making, tested sharing the system's in flight decision-making with a human operator.

In April 2013, as part of the ASTRAEA research programme, a Jetstream research aircraft completed a 500-mile flight through UK airspace from Preston to Inverness while under the command of a ground-based pilot and the guidance of NATS air traffic controllers.[153]

130.  Members of the ASTRAEA consortium said that the project helped to address uncertainty between industry and regulators. Agent Oriented Software Limited, an SME in the consortium, said that it invested in the project because it wished to be part of the "development of regulations that are both safe and efficient to comply with, and to build the company's profile in the supply chains of the primes."[154] Thales UK said that its experience on the programme provided it with the understanding necessary to "access this breakthrough market sector".[155]

131.  The Government said that the ASTRAEA programme had "seen numerous demonstrations of improved capability of some of the key systems required and moved forward the formation of draft regulations for their use."[156] However, Mr Cremin said that there remained much work to do: even after testing the technology, it was necessary "to go through the full system-live demonstrations, as you would do in testing any other product." He added that it could be compared to the development of the Traffic Collision Avoidance System for manned aircraft, which took over 10 years, and that a potentially certified detect and avoid system might be available "in and around the 2023 timetable."[157]

132.  The second stage of ASTRAEA concluded in April 2013. Aerospace Defence Security Space said that it was important "that national initiatives in the UK and across Europe are encouraged to support the body of evidence that has been … collected by ongoing initiatives such as ASTRAEA." It continued: "This is necessary to underpin system certification of RPAS for the wide range of civilian uses which could be made available."[158] Thales UK also recommended continued support for the ASTRAEA programmes: "Less than full engagement on current RPAS initiatives will leave UK industry at a significant disadvantage and may lead to an unrecoverable loss in market position."[159]

133.  RPAS development is currently hampered by a 'chicken and egg' problem: industry is reluctant to invest in developing the necessary technologies without certainty about how they will be regulated, while regulators are reluctant to develop standards until industry comes forward with technologies for validation. ASTRAEA is a good example of how industry and regulators can work together to overcome this challenge through shared funding and early joint working. We recommend that the Commission adopts a similar collaborative approach to forthcoming research projects in the RPAS sector.

134.  As the second phase of the ASTRAEA programme is now complete, we recommend that the UK Government publish a plan setting out how it proposes to build on the programmes outputs.


135.  Air traffic management refers to the separation of aircraft in non-segregated airspace, namely airspace that is used by other aircraft. This separation is provided by ground control staff who use the link between radar and on-board transponders to detect airborne traffic in their area. The primary purpose of air traffic management is to prevent collisions, and to organise and improve the flow of traffic.

136.  Large RPAS, weighing over 150kg, will have to comply with existing regulations for air traffic management if they are to be integrated into airspace shared with commercial manned aircraft. The Professional Society of Drone Journalists said: "Larger RPAS will be able to fly higher and have sense and avoid systems and be able to be integrated into the current air traffic system".[160] Gerry Corbett, CAA, said that large RPAS in the airspace would have to comply with existing requirements under the air traffic management framework: "the way as a controller you deal with a manned aircraft should be as close as possible to the way you deal with an unmanned aircraft. We do not want air traffic management systems to have to start dealing with different things at different times."[161]

137.  Indeed, this expectation underlies the decision to make the SESAR JU the co-ordinating body for all RPAS research and development projects. Neil Watson, of Thales UK, told us that SESAR JU was currently undertaking research into understanding "how an air traffic controller deals with an RPAS and the fundamental differences in its operating characteristics."[162]

138.  In contrast, we learned that it would not be possible to use the existing air traffic management framework to detect small RPAS. In response to suggestions that RPAS be fitted with transponders, Mr Sivel said: "real transponders would eliminate any small RPAS because they are quite large."[163] Mr Lissone stressed that even if it were possible, fitting all RPAS with conventional transponders would "have a completely negative impact" on the management of large aircraft: "We simply cannot cope with such an amount of transponders."[164]

139.  A number of small RPAS stakeholders noted that the creation of a system to manage the traffic of low level flights was needed in order to ensure the safety of increased small RPAS operations. Mr Meuleman said: "What we are after … is that a kind of notification system, as we call it, should be in place, because we know especially for traffic control and so on, the major concern is that we do not see these things flying."[165]

140.  Flirtey, a UAV delivery company, urged us to recommend that regulators "Provide a free Internet service for all unmanned aerial vehicle operators to log their flight paths, plan flights in advance, and to submit requests to Air Traffic Control for higher risk operations" at short notice.[166] Mr Lissone told us that a website was in fact in the process of being developed in Ireland to track RPAS flights: "They had huge issues of RPAS flying in Dublin City Airport and they said that, if we could ask [RPAS pilots] to file authorisation to fly in Ireland and then tell them where they are operating, what altitudes and what times, this would generate automatic aeronautical information to all the airspace users."[167]

141.  It was unclear whether such a database system should be developed by regulators or industry. Mr Lissone told us that while SESAR JU was considering a system for small RPAS, it would not be ready "for a very long time, when I am already on my pension."[168] Mr Koehl, of SESAR JU, said that industry should try to develop solutions which could be used across the EU. The Commission could support this by harmonising rules regarding operations, but that from that point on "the game has to start from the industry side". He continued: "We have to align local regulation so that everyone can make business across Europe as a minimum. That, for me, is the blocking point—it is the business, it is the market, it is the industry … That is the main issue. For me it is not [air traffic management]."[169]

142.  Jay Bregman, the entrepreneur behind eCourier and Hailo, said that he was working on a global identity registry for robots (including RPAS). He agreed that industry should take the lead, and opposed the creation of an RPAS database as a public utility. This was because "the underlying technology and the regulatory principles are evolving faster than the systems we currently have in place to regulate them."[170]

143.  There is persuasive evidence that such a RPAS flight notification system could be Internet-based, or app-based, and would not be resource intensive; it could achieve a high degree of penetration given the prevalence of smartphone use. NASA in the USA is already working on developing a website which will allow RPAS pilots to reserve blocks of airspace for flights. There is nothing yet in place at the EU level.[171] In the longer term, as more small RPAS are flown commercially at low altitude beyond the sight of the pilot, or even flown completely autonomously, some sort of air traffic management infrastructure to separate RPAS flights will be required in order to ensure the safety of complex operations, for example, package delivery in cities.[172]

144.  In light of the evidence we have received, and the example set by ASTRAEA, we recommend that the Commission, the Government and the RPAS industry should work together to explore the creation of an online database through which commercial small RPAS pilots can provide details of their flights (below 500ft) to inform other airspace users. In order to keep the UK and Europe at the forefront of RPAS developments, we recommend that all parties seek to engage with NASA in the USA, which is currently researching the development of such a system.


145.  A command and control (C2) link is a data link between the pilot and the aircraft, which enables the pilot to give commands to the aircraft and to download data along radio waves. Mr Mann highlighted the importance of this technology:

    "The command and control link is the difference between a pilot on the ground and a pilot in the cockpit … With unmanned systems we need a technology that ensures that that command and control is always linked to the aircraft, so that no matter what happens in any circumstance the control can be taken from the ground."[173]

146.  Despite the fundamental importance of the C2 link to safe RPAS operations, a number of technological challenges still need to be addressed. First is the availability of radio spectrum, upon which the command and control over the aircraft is secured. Thales UK and the Royal Aeronautical Society said that the lack of sufficiently available spectrum was particularly concerning for RPAS operations because of the requirement to send commands from the pilot to the aircraft along one set frequency and to download data along another.[174]

147.  Historically, the aviation sector has been allocated a large amount of spectrum, which, in order to protect human life, is safeguarded against interference. Mr Lissone, though, said "the way aviation manages the aviation frequency bands is on the outside seen as very poor." There was increasing pressure from small RPAS users, the communications industry and from some countries, such as the US and Germany, to allow the use of non-safety certified aviation frequency bands for RPAS. Mr Lissone warned that if this were to happen, it could undermine the aeronautical industry's justification for maintaining control of a large share of radio spectrum: "[if we] tell everybody that we do not need these special frequency bands and that we can do without … we have no fight whatsoever."[175]

148.  The World Radio Conference in November 2015[176]will be important in deciding the amount and type of frequencies that should be used for RPAS.[177] Mr Rahouja, DG MOVE said: "Shortage of radio frequencies is a serious issue but has not been identified as an acute show-stopper for the RPAS operations." [178] He said that Member States must co-ordinate their positions in order to defend their interests at the World Radio Conference. On 6 January 2015 the UK telecommunications regulator, OFCOM, stated that the UK would not support the use of non-protected bands for RPAS C2 links.[179]

149.  In addition to the availability of spectrum, concerns were raised about which frequencies were used for certain applications. The Association of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems UK (ARPAS-UK), Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Special Interest Group (UAV SIG) of the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society (RSPSoc) said: "whilst the majority of control and command [links for small RPAS] operate on 2.4GHz and video downlinks are on 5.8GHz, recent RPAS have been sold by Maplins with this combination reversed. It is critical that for the industry to develop there needs to be co-ordinated EC agreement on this issue."[180]

150.  Evidence also highlighted the challenge the RPAS industry faces in securing the C2 links from outside interference. Aerospace Defence Security Space said: "The use of such advanced networked systems introduces significant information assurance issues, whose impact on safety is potentially severe, although not fully quantified at present".[181] BALPA referred to an incident in Australia which "was blamed (albeit by the operator) on the link to the small quadcopter being 'hijacked'."[182] English Heritage noted that the potential for the command and control link to be hacked posed a security threat for data collected by an RPAS. [183] Denis Koehl, of SESAR JU, told us that his organisation had undertaken a study into cybersecurity issues to determine the size of the challenge, potential technical solutions and the resources required to address them.[184]

151.  We recognise that the allocation of spectrum is a Member State competence. The Commission will have to respect this while promoting the use of RPAS in the internal market. We recommend that Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU) focus its research on improving the security and integrity of the RPAS command and control link.


152.  The Committee learned that RPAS have only recently been added to the final stage of the SESAR JU project. André Clot, of EuroUSC, said: "SESAR has only just begun in the past year to look at RPAS and [their] integration. It has a long way to go, from my perspective."[185] Ewan Kelbie, NATS, said: "There is potentially a bit of catch up being played here. There is probably a view that in America, for example, they might be slightly ahead in their thinking in developing the potential infrastructure for RPAS in future."[186] Denis Koehl, SESAR JU, acknowledged that RPAS were a recent addition, but added: "We can say the way is clearly pathed to have RPAS on board".[187]

153.  In 2013 SESAR JU selected nine research projects from various Member States focusing on how to integrate RPAS into non-segregated airspace. €4 million is being spent on these projects, which look at the integration of RPAS for coastguard and civilian operations, and demonstrate technologies using air traffic management services.[188]

154.  The late adoption of RPAS into the scope of SESAR JU is particularly concerning given the tight deadlines for RPAS integration into non-segregated airspace. The Communication states that progressive integration will begin from 2016 onwards. However, the Government said: "the Commission's plan for integration of RPAS into European Airspace from 2016 onwards is highly ambitious and unlikely to be achieved owing to the vast number of technological hurdles still to be overcome".[189] Mr Sivel said that only parts of the target for 2016 would be hit. At a Council of Ministers meeting in October 2014, "Ministers lifted the 'until 2016', making it more of a political ambition than the original, 'It must be adopted by then' because they realised that sometimes haste is not always the best way to go about things.".[190]

155.  The late inclusion of RPAS in the scope of SESAR JU increases the likelihood that the Commission will not meet its timetable for the progressive integration of RPAS into non-segregated airspace. We recommend that a realistic timetable for RPAS integration must be decided as soon as possible.


156.  Within the nine RPAS research projects supported by SESAR JU, one project, CLAIRE, is based in the UK. Thales UK said that it had been selected as the UK leader in this project, and was supported by the UK air traffic management provider, NATS. This project is assessing how the new harmonised European air traffic management systems will accommodate RPAS as airspace users. It is based on an incremental series of RPAS simulations, using scenarios to exercise air traffic management interoperability and communications concepts.[191]

157.  The Communication stresses the importance of including SMEs in research projects through COSME and Horizion2020. However, we learned that SMEs, in contrast to Thales UK, were finding it difficult to access EU level funding. Dr Sue Wolfe, of Callen-Lenz Associates Ltd said that this was partly because projects did not prioritise small RPAS applications.[192] Mr Meuleman suggested that so far as SESAR JU was concerned, an RPAS was "a military UAV that could hardly fit into this room."[193] Mr Cremin, of the Department for Transport, said that while the Government was seeing an increasing number of applications from SMEs for EU funding, the requirement for applicants to match the funding being sought with their own capital was a problem. He added: "the trouble is that a lot of the companies at the smaller end are often one or two individuals working in a very small company who do not necessarily understand the route to obtain European money."[194]

158.  We recommend that SESAR JU, together with Horizon 2020 and COSME, should focus more on the technological priorities of the small RPAS sector. It should also consider the financial barriers to SMEs' participation in research programmes, and actively seek to increase their involvement.

141   Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: A new era for aviation: Opening the aviation market for the civil use of remotely piloted aircraft systems in a safe and sustainable manner, COM(2014) 607, p 6 Back

142   Horizon 2020 is the EU's largest Research and Innovation programme to date with a budget, with €80 billion to be distributed between 2014 and 2020. COSME is the EU programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises running from 2014 to 2020 with a planned budget of €2.3bn. It plans to support SMEs through better access to finance and markets, supporting entrepreneurs and creating more favourable conditions for business creation and growth. Back

143   Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: A new era for aviation: Opening the aviation market for the civil use of remotely piloted aircraft systems in a safe and sustainable manner, COM(2014) 607, p 9 Back

144   Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: A new era for aviation: Opening the aviation market for the civil use of remotely piloted aircraft systems in a safe and sustainable manner, COM(2014) 607, pp 3-7 Back

145   Written evidence from the Government (RPA0011); and AM-UAS (RPA0006);  Q2 (Paul Cremin),  Q17 (Gerry Corbett),  Q95,  Q44 (Gary Clayton) Back

146    Q29 Back

147   Written evidence from the Department for Transport (RPA0011) Back

148   Written evidence from AM-UAS Ltd (RPA0006) and Resource Group Ltd (RPA0009). Controlled airspace refers to airspace under air traffic management. Back

149   An aircraft transponder is an electronic device used to broadcast an aircraft's position and identity through wireless electrical signals. Its primary function is to provide air traffic management with a 'radar' picture of traffic in the airspace.  Back

150   Supplementary written evidence from Thales UK (RPA0042) Back

151    Q70 Back

152   Written evidence from AeroSynergy Certification Ltd (RPA0001) Back

153   Written evidence from NATS (RPA0036) Back

154   Written evidence from Agent Oriented Software Limited (AOS) (RPA0046) Back

155   Written evidence from Thales UK (RPA0030) Back

156   Written evidence from the Department for Transport (RPA0011)  Back

157    Q9  Back

158   Written evidence from Aerospace Defence Security Space (RPA0021) Back

159   Written evidence from Thales UK (RPA0030) Back

160   Written evidence from the Professional Society of Drone Journalists (RPA0032) Back

161   Q18 Back

162    Q27 Back

163    Q58 Back

164    Q72 Back

165    Q125 Back

166   Written evidence from Flirtey (RPA0050) Back

167    Q69 Back

168   Ibid. Back

169    Q71 ( Denis Koehl) Back

170   Written evidence from Jay Bregman (RPA0049) Back

171   'Unmanned aircraft: The robot overhead', The Economist (6 December 2014): [ accessed on 4 February 2015];  Q69 (Lissone) Back

172   The Economist, op cit [ accessed on 4 February 2015] Back

173    Q26 Back

174   Written evidence from Thales UK (RPA0030) and the Royal Aeronautical Society (RPA0018) Back

175    Q73 Back

176   The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) holds a Radio Communication Conference every three to four years at which it allocates spectrum for different uses. The conference will discuss the allocation of radio spectrum bands for command and control links (C2) for RPAS. The conference is scheduled to take place on 2-27 November 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland.  Back

177   Supplementary written evidence from Thales UK (RPA0042) and written evidence from the Royal Aeronautical Society (RPA0018) Back

178    Q97 Back

179   Ofcom, 'Update on the UK preparations for the World Radio communication Conference 2015 (WRC 15)': [accessed on 12 February 2015] Back

180   Written evidence from ARPAS-UK, UAV SIG of RSPSoc (RPA0005) and Callen-Lenz Associates Ltd (RPA0004) Back

181   Written evidence from Aerospace Defence Security Space (RPA0021) Back

182   Written evidence BALPA (RPA0031). A quadcopter is a multirotor RPAS.  Back

183   Written evidence from English Heritage (RPA0007) Back

184    Q75  Back

185    Q18 (André Clot) Back

186    Q18 (Ewan Kelbie) Back

187    Q62 Back

188   SESAR, 'Demonstrating SESAR: Civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) Integration': [accessed on 4 February 2015] Back

189   Written evidence from the Department for Transport (RPA0011) Back

190    Q49 Back

191   Written evidence from Thales UK (RPA0030) Back

192    Q32 Back

193    Q129 Back

194    Q186 Back

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