Urban air mobility: Implementation of the U-space regulatory package

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16 January 2023

Thanks to Angelo Aimar for collaborating on this article

Within the context of legislative developments on urban air mobility (UAM), as of January 26, 2023, the three implementing regulations adopted by the European Commission in April 2021 will come into force in the European Union. These measures constitute what is known as the “U-space regulatory package” a set of rules to enable drones and manned aircraft to coexist safely. The regulatory package was drafted in response to the rapid development of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) and to develop a consistent and innovative legislative framework to create and support the new UAM mobility frontier, which is separate from the traditional air transport systems that all members states have relied upon for decades. UAS are part of a system of highly automated cargo air transportation services in low altitude urban airspace that are expected to result in more sustainable and smart means of transport. Currently the best-developed applications use drones for short-range surveillance and package delivery, but UAM passenger services are expected to become a reality in a few years alongside manned aircraft, as demonstrated by new plans implemented in Italy to build the first vertiport—that is expected to become operational in 2024.[1]

European institutions previously issued harmonizing rules,[2] but the U-space regulatory package was adopted to address integration into common airspace directly. The legal sources underlying the package are Implementing Regulation 2021/664, Implementing Regulation 2021/665, and Implementing Regulation 2021/666, each briefly analyzed below.

Commission Implementing Regulation 2021/664 provides a regulatory framework for the U-space and defines the U-Space, its technical and operational requirements, and the services provided therein. It states that the U-space is airspace open to UAS operations and the services provided therein according to the requirements of the regulation that guarantee “the safe, secure and efficient integration of UAS in the airspace […] as well as a high degree of automation and digitalisation.[3] The regulation establishes the mandatory services to which UAS operation are subject. These include network identification services, for identification, location, and trajectory of drones; geo-awareness services, to provide information on operating conditions; flight clearance services, to prevent conflict with other UAS; and traffic information services, to alert UAS operators about other air traffic in the proximity of their UAS. Additionally, a Member State can require implementation of a weather information service and of a compliance monitoring service to warn operators of deviations from granted flight clearance.

Commission Implementing Regulation 2021/665 amends Implementing Regulation 2017/373 by implementing requirements for providers of air traffic management/air navigation services and other air traffic management network functions in the U-space airspace within controlled airspace. The objective of the regulation is to adapt the previous framework to ensure that manned and unmanned aircraft remain safely separated. This requires effective and specific communication between air traffic service units, U-space service providers, and UAS operators to ensure that all their operations are coordinated.

Commission Implementing Regulation 2021/666 amends Regulation 2017/373 with regard to requirements for manned aviation operating in U-space airspace. This regulation is designed to allow manned aircraft not provided air traffic control service to operate safely alongside UAS. The regulation mandates that the positions of manned aircraft must be communicated to U-space service providers by making them electronically conspicuous, effectively signaling their presence.

As mentioned, these three implementing regulations together form the U-space regulatory package which is to entry into force on the 26 of January, 2023, so that the whole legal framework can be fully operational by September 2023.[4]

In advance of that date and before other Member States and the European Commission itself acted, the French aviation authority, Direction General de l’Aviation Civil (DGAC), published U-space information on its website.

The authority published the contents of the three regulations and indicated the three key elements of U-space: airspaces designated by the state; standardized digital services to provide required certification; and common information services providing data to allow circulation in the U-space.

In addition to the regulatory package, on December 19, 2022, the EASA published its first Acceptable Means of Compliance (“AMC”) and Guidance Material (“GM”) for the U-space regulatory framework.[5] These documents are the result of a public consultation. Several experts and stakeholders were involved to guarantee that their content is in line with the latest developments in the industry.

The AMC and GM provide clarity on various matters for proper implementation of the regulations by Member States. Specifically, the AMC and the GM concern such issues as the concept of U-space airspace and its management; the shared information service and the certification process for U-space service providers; performance requirements for various U-space services; exchange of data between U-space participants and the related standards; detailed procedures for the flight authorization service; and coordination with local authorities and their oversight programs.

Pursuant to ED Decision 2022/022/R, the EASA AMC and GM will take effect together with the U-space regulatory package on January 26, 2023.

[1] See UrbanV, a joint venture between ADR, Aéroports de la Côte d’Azur, Aeroporto Guglielmo Marconi, and Atlantia.

[2] See Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 of 24 May 2019 on the rules and procedures for the operation of unmanned aircraft and Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945 of 12 March 2019 on unmanned aircraft systems and on third-country operators of unmanned aircraft systems.

[3] Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/664 of 22 April 2021 on a regulatory framework for the U-space, Recital 3.

[4] This deadline is set in Regulation 2018/1139, Article 140.

[5] The published material is available at https://www.easa.europa.eu/en/downloads/137405/en.

Article filed under: Automotive & Mobility
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