last updated on 21/12/2021
What is U-space?
In short: U-space airspace is an area, established by a country, which has fully automated traffic control for unmanned aircraft operating in that area.
In April 2021, the EU published a regulatory package aimed at providing a framework for the establishment and deployment of U-space in Europe, with the aim of ensuring similar rules for such areas across the EU, but also in non-EU countries that are members of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The EU’s U-space rules will apply from 26 January 2023. Under the EU rules, ‘U-space airspace’ is defined as a geographical zone designated by the authorities of a country, where operations of unmanned aircraft are only allowed with the support of ‘U-space services’. These ‘U-space services’ are a digital and automated framework designed to support safe, secure and efficient access to U-space airspace for a large number of unmanned aircraft.
U-space Services include 1) a flight authorisation (to be requested for each flight); 2) network identification (continuous remote identification of the unmanned aircraft throughout the duration of the flight); 3) a geo-awareness service (information on restrictions and obstacles); and 4) a traffic information service (to avoid in-air collisions with other aircraft). U-space services also include 5) weather information and 6) conformance monitoring (to check if a flight is operated as scheduled/permitted).
The provider(s) of one or all of these services are designated by each country and the use of all or some of their services is likely to come at a cost for users of the U-space.
What’s the relevance of U-space for aeromodelling?
U-space can have a major impact on aeromodelling. Most U-space airspace is likely to be established in airspace from the ground up to around 500ft (150m) and in open areas close to population centers and is thus likely to compete with aeromodelling activities in that airspace.
Interestingly, the EU’s U-space Regulation (see below) specifically exempts two categories of unmanned aircraft from its scope:
- Activities in the framework of model aircraft clubs and associations that have received an authorisation in accordance with Article 16 of Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947; and
- Operations with unmanned aircraft under the ‘open category’ that are lighter than 250gr and with a maximum operating speed of less than 19 m/s (either ‘privately built’ or under unmanned aircraft class C0).
This means that model aircraft activities that are not covered under the national authorisations provided through Article 16 of the EU’s implementing regulation (in particular flights under the so-called ‘open category’ rules) must comply with the U-space requirements, whereas activities under such authorisations are exempted from the U-space rules.
While this exemption may sound attractive, in practice it is likely to be a ‘red herring’ and may even disadvantage aeromodelling. The reason is that the very purpose of establishing a U-space area is to ensure an integrated (automated and digital) management of all air traffic movements in that area (the U-space services described above). The likely consequence is therefore that air traffic not participating in (or exempted from) such integrated management systems will be seriously restricted and most likely prohibited altogether. Although the actual establishment of U-space areas is likely to take into consideration aeromodelling operations, once such area has been established it will thus affect (and likely restrict or prohibit) all aeromodelling activities within a U-space area unless these activities can be somehow integrated into the traffic management system.
In practice the relevance of the U-space rules for aeromodelling is therefore:
- Aeromodelling clubs, associations and interest groups should closely engage in national processes on the establishment of U-space areas and intervene where such areas overlap with or include sites where aeromodelling activities take place. The aim of this engagement is to ensure that these aeromodelling activities are not affected by the establishment of U-space areas;
- Where an overlap between U-space areas and aeromodelling activities is unavoidable, Aeromodelling clubs, associations and interest groups should explore options to enable an integration of aeromodelling activities in the U-space framework. This may include for instance the permanent geo-fencing a model airfield (excluding it from the U-space airspace), or the use of transponders (electronic conspicuity) on model airfields or in aircraft, ensuring the electronic visibility of these airfields or aircraft to U-space users when aeromodelling activities take place. Important in these discussions will also be the costs of participating in U-space services – especially when these services are provided by commercial providers.
The EU’s regulatory package consists of:
- Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/664 of 22 April 2021 on a regulatory framework for the U-space (U-space Regulation): This Regulation provides the basis for Member States establishing U-space areas and selecting the services required for their operation.
- Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/665 of 22 April 2021 amending Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/373 as regards requirements for providers of air traffic management/air navigation services and other air traffic management network functions in the U-space airspace designated in controlled airspace: This Regulation amends earlier EU legislation on requirements for providers of air traffic services to include provisions on U-space providers.
- Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/666 of 22 April 2021 amending Regulation (EU) No 923/2012 as regards requirements for manned aviation operating in U-space airspace: This Regulation requires manned aircraft operating in U-space areas to continuously make themselves electronically conspicuous to the U-space service providers.
To support the implementation of the EU legislation, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has proposed acceptable means of compliance (AMC) and guidance material (GM) to the U-space regulatory package. These AMC and GM are open for comments by stakeholders until 15 March 2022.