Many places in Europe are experimenting with the new drone rules. This is also the case in Spain, where the leading air navigation and aeronautical information service provider ENAIRE is making considerable progress. Daniel Garcia-Monteavaro, Head of Drone Business Development Department at ENAIRE catches up.
As a public business entity reporting to the Ministry of Transports, Mobility and Urban Agenda, ENAIRE manages the Spanish airspace over a territory of 2.19 MN square kilometres. ENAIRE provides air traffic services to 2 million flights carrying over 250 million passengers each year. Through five control centres, 21 control towers and a comprehensive network of aeronautical infrastructure and equipment, ENAIRE provides en-route, approach and aerodrome ATC services, as well as flight information, alerts and consulting services. In recent years, ENAIRE has also taken significant steps in the field of drone operations.
“For Spain, but also for the rest of Europe, it is too soon to speak about the implementation of U-space as such”, says Garcia-Monteavaro. “It is true that the European Union has presented plans with which there are rules and regulations for a joint U-space from 2023. Regulations that together create the conditions necessary for both drones and manned aircraft to operate safely in a section of our airspace known as the U-space. But it is a first approach. If we talk about the implementation of these tools that help to carry out drone operations, there is still a long way to go.”
2023 is very soon, Garcia-Monteavaro emphasizes. “And that is precisely the reason why so much work is currently being done to be able to comply with the proposed legislation on time.”
ENAIRE is therefore developing a number of tools that make it easier for stakeholders to comply with the new rules. “ENAIRE Drones for example, is a free website where drone pilots can find all necessary information for their planned flights. You can see at a glance where it is and is not allowed to fly. Whether you are in a CTR or a conservation area. Users of the website can be either professional drone operators or recreational pilots. There is even a handy questionnaire that explains exactly what you can and cannot do and where. But you can also find flight information from other airspace users.”
“Drones and commercial aviation cannot live in different universes. They share the same airspace. It is true that the type of operation and the altitudes might be different, but there are also helicopters and other types of aircraft that often come closer to drones. At the moment, the flights of manned and unmanned vehicles are still kept separate, but in my view it is inevitable that they will soon be merged. I see UTM as a laboratory setup for an ATM of the future. Both worlds will merge and everyone will have to adapt to that future.”
With the laws and regulations surrounding U-space, the European Union will in principle have one joint airspace from 2023, also for drones. But before that happens, a lot still needs to be done, Garcia-Monteavaro sees. “It is important that the various ANSPs, but also the governments, start communicating with each other in the different federal states. That is paramount for the success of the new rules.”
UAM relies on multiple techniques, rules & regulations and industries. Therefore Enaire is partnering with many stakeholders to continue serving the growing drone industry, Garcia-Monteavaro explains. “Currently ENAIRE is supporting all the important initiatives in different regions in Spain. Especially initiatives related to Urban Air Mobility. The initiatives take into account a range of stakeholders, including local administrations, city halls, authorities, the drone and UTM industry and logistic companies. ENAIRE finished a public tender process in July with INDRA as industrial provider for a U-space platform. The platform will be at the disposal of both national initiatives and international projects. Our objective is to integrate the drone operations in airspace through this ENAIRE platform as a common information servicer role, with other airspace service providers to serve the growing drone industry as well as the society.”
Learn from aviation safety
Garcia-Monteavaro sees how closely the drone industry is collaborating with other sectors such as automakers and telecom providers. A good thing according to him. But in his view, it is also necessary to take a good look at how traditional aviation operates. “Especially in the area of safety. The aviation industry is really leading the way in this regard. Both in the field of building the vehicles and in the operation. The drone industry should cherish those years of experience in that area, because they are becoming more and more part of aviation. But then they will have to find a balance between development costs and the high security requirements. There is still a lot to learn.”
Healthcare most promising
Many tests and pilot projects are being set up throughout Europe and developments follow each other at breakneck speed. What is the most promising development according to Garcia-Monteavaro? “There is a lot of experimentation going on. Personally, I believe that drones related to healthcare are the most promising. Especially critical transport of organs or patients or doctor transport. When it comes to a life or death situation, transportation in urban air mobility will bring an impressive benefit to society. And will also help to break through possible social barriers.”
Integrated airspaceGarcia-Monteavaro also sees the necessary obstacles on the way to a fully integrated European airspace. “The first one is interoperability. But that will be solved by technical innovations. Another obstacle remains the borders. I expect that different rules will continue to apply in different countries. Also because drone operations often take place closer to the ground. And then you have much more to do with local conditions such as buildings and the landscape. So you are dealing with local regulations by cities. And they will influence what can and is allowed. That is different with traditional aviation, high in the air you only have to deal with other vehicles and with air traffic control. A fully integrated airspace is not easy, but it will eventually become a reality.”