European partnership to open cities’ airspace to drones for the first time

The SESAR JU ATM U-space project, AURA, will tackle one of the main hurdles that prevent drones from taking off in cities: their safe integration into the very low-level airspace without impacting conventional air traffic operations in controlled airspace.

Every major city in the world has one or more airports in its vicinity that establish restrictions on access to their airspace. These limitations can sometimes affect the neighboring city’s airspace, which has knock-on
effects for the development of urban air mobility and all its economic growth potential and job creation.

This is where AURA comes in, a consortium made by the main air navigation service providers, technology suppliers, and leading research organizations from all over Europe, coordinated by Indra.

Together, they aim to integrate the management of the very low-level airspace (VLL) or U-space as it is also known, with traditional air traffic management systems that use air control centers and airport towers.
Seamless interfaces between U-space and ATM/ATC, will also allow managing operations above VLL in a safe way.

This will unleash the development of a completely new sector linked to drones that will boost economy, competitiveness of companies in every sector and improvement of public services. Inspections, logistics, disaster relief operations, drone-related manufacturing and their maintenance plus UTM services will be among the first activities to benefit.

To bring this into reality, AURA partners will determine the flight information that UTM and ATM systems must exchange in order to guarantee safe air operations.

The consortium will develop procedures and systems to support the needed interface between these two systems to manage high volumes of manned and unmanned traffic operating safely and concurrently in the same airspace.

This information exchange will provide an accurate view of the flight situation at all times ensuring safe operations, even with a high volume of simultaneous operations.

The entire operational concept and system developed within the AURA project will be tested in several validation exercises in different European sites. These validation exercises will combine both real flights and high performance simulations with real traffic to validate solutions and procedures.

The AURA project is the first Industrial Research project managed by the SESAR Joint Undertaking that is dedicated to U-space, the European Commission’s initiative for the safe and secure integration of drones
into the airspace. The results from these projects will facilitate the work of regulatory bodies, which are working on establishing the rules that will govern urban air mobility, and the development of technical
standards and solutions shared by all manufacturers and operators.

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