A few years ago, the role of Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) changed due to the increasing use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Whilst manned aviation is based on the ‘see and avoid’ principle, unmanned operations cannot fulfill these requirements, especially when operating beyond visual line of sight. The European Commission, therefore, intends to adopt the Standardised European Rules of the Air (SERA) to safely integrate UAS operations. Besides this, with the implementation of the U-space regulation (Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/664, 665 and 666) ANSPs must further adapt. They may need to take on new roles and responsibilities to ensure the safe operation of UAS within U-space airspace, whether in controlled or uncontrolled airspace. In this blog post, I will discuss the potential effects of U-space for ANSPs, as well as the roles and responsibilities they may need to or must take.
A new concept: dynamic airspace reconfiguration
In December 2022, EASA published Decision 2022/023/R as an amendment to Part-ATS of Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/373, officially assigning a new role to ANSPs with regards to U-space within controlled airspace. The concept of dynamic airspace reconfiguration has been introduced for U-space airspace designated in controlled airspace, where ANSPs are responsible for providing air navigation services to manned aircraft operators.
The objective of the dynamic airspace reconfiguration process is to ensure the safe operation of manned aircraft within U-space airspace in controlled airspace by adjusting the limits of the U-space airspace dynamically. However, to achieve this goal, the Air Traffic Control (ATC) unit must establish appropriate coordination procedures and communication facilities with new U-space related entities, namely:
- U-space Service Provider (USSP): a certified entity that provides U-space services within U-space airspace.
- Common Information Service Provider (CISP): one or more providers of “common information service”, that consists of both static and dynamic data to enable the provision of U-space services for managing the traffic of unmanned aircraft.
How does the process work?
The dynamic airspace reconfiguration begins with a trigger from manned operators indicating their intent to enter U-space airspace. When ATC intends to issue a clearance to the manned traffic, the procedure starts. The unmanned airspace users are alerted by the USSP that a restriction will soon be published. The restriction for UAS operators begins after the ATC unit publishes a temporary U-space airspace restriction through the CIS. Since USSPs rely on the CIS data, the geo-awareness U-space service (provided by the USSP) is updated to adjust the horizontal and vertical limitations of the U-space airspace. Additionally, USSPs should check already authorized flights with the newly published restrictions as part of the flight authorization service. Finally, USSPs notify the ATC unit once the area is clear of UAS traffic. This notification triggers the ATC unit to clear manned traffic to enter U-space airspace.
Regardless of airspace type, ANSPs will always play a role in providing information within U-space. In general, ANSPs will provide information by publishing aeronautical information. In controlled airspace, ANSPs may receive data from the CISP on flight intentions from special manned operators (such as HEMS) to initiate the dynamic reconfiguration process.
In this article, I assume a centralized approach has been taken, where a Common Information Service Provider (CISP) is designated for each U-space airspace, or a certified single CISP is responsible for providing common information services on a national level. The CISP serves as the single source of truth for information provision within U-space, where USSPs use the data provided by the CISP to provide U-space services to UAS operators.
The ANSP can also be designated as the Single CISP or certified USSP. In several European Member States, the ANSP has been or will be appointed as the Single CISP because of the similarities involved. The certification framework will initially be based on the certification requirements that already exist for ANSPs, outlined in 2017/373. Furthermore, most of the data required for the CIS is already available, like weather information, traffic data, and airspace information. Thus, the ANSP may be the best option for the role.
While I agree that the ANSP would make a good CIS provider, it is crucial to note that the CIS will primarily be consumed by USSPs and, indirectly, by UAS operators. The information required for safely conducting unmanned operations is not limited to the traditional data already available through the ANSP. As a result, new information providers must be contracted to meet the needs of UAS operators operating within (and also outside) U-space. As such, ANSPs must adapt to serve both manned and (highly automated and digitalized) unmanned aviation, with the ultimate goal of integrating both users into the airspace.
In conclusion, the implementation of the U-space framework will pose several challenges for ANSPs. One of the most significant responsibilities that the ANSP will have to undertake for U-space designated in controlled airspace is the dynamic reconfiguration concept. Moreover, the ANSP will play a vital role in providing information to the CISP. Additionally, ANSPs may opt to take on the role of the CISP or become a USSP to manage the U-space airspace.
It would be beneficial to begin identifying the requirements and capacity for each role and process. This will involve a deeper dive into various aspects, including the definition of performance and separation standards, which is a complex issue that may require a separate blog post to address. Based on this analysis, ANSPs can make decisions and take on a crucial role in facilitating complex UAS operations using U-space airspace in both controlled and uncontrolled airspaces. U-space can serve as a solution for ANSPs to safely integrate unmanned traffic in controlled airspaces, near airports/heliports.