Drones in the playground with their big brothers

If we don't want to drones to be restricted to just a few reserved sectors of air space we have to show that they can be introduced with zero risk into the airspace occupied by piloted aircraft.

Number 41

Les avions pilotés et les drones dans le même espace aérien : une situation aujourd'hui impossible... mais la réglementation pourrait évoluer et la technologie progresser pour le permettre.
Piloted aircraft and drones in the same airspace: a situation that is impossible today... but the regulations may change, and the technology as well.

Imagine a sky where aircraft, and their pilots, and automatic drones of all shapes and sizes cohabit together. Today, it is absolutely impossible: drones are not permitted to enter the same airspace as piloted aircraft as the regulations governing aviation prohibit it. "The rules of the air defined for general aerial circulation assume the presence of a pilot on board who is responsible for the safe execution of the flight" points out Christel Seguin, research engineer at Onera in Toulouse. Drones move in specific airspace known as "segregated".

However, it would be useful if drones were able to leave their reserved airspace, for example to cross a corridor of air space to be able to carry out surveillance of a catastrophe. So technical means and procedures have to be designed to (1) pilot and control drones safely (the "operational" part), (2) define the rules of certification of these systems (the "navigability" part) and finally (3) develop the qualifications for drone pilots (the "licensing" part). And this has to be done at the international level. "The issues are simultaneously technical, organizational and human" emphasizes Christel Seguin.

Les drones ReSSAC embarqueront des automatismes avancés et fiables pour pouvoir terminer le vol sûrement malgré une perte de liaison avec le pilote au sol
ReSSAC drones will have advanced and reliable automatic mechanisms that would end a flight safely even in the event of the liaison with the pilot on the ground being lost

Onera's goal with the IDEAS project (Insertion of Drones in Airspace and Safety) is to demonstrate the technical and operational feasibility of the insertion of drones into the general airspace. This demonstration calls on several disciplines: sensors, data processing, control-command technologies, optics, electromagnetism, etc. "We have to provide the scientific proofs that this insertion would be safe" says Christel Seguin. We need to examine all possible eventualities, imagine all breakdowns, envisage remedies, and finally calculate whether the risk is acceptable – in other words, whether the probability of a catastrophic accident is extremely low. These models take into account both technical and organizational components. "Rather than simulating flights and analyzing the results, we ask ourselves: is there a failure involving the loss of the device in unacceptable conditions? Our programs tell us then what configurations could lead to such a failure".

These "numerical proofs" would of course be confirmed experimentally. Flights of drones weighing 15, 30 and 100 kilograms on take-off will be used to test the various elements in a real physical environment (sensors, electronic, electrical and IT equipment, motorization, actuators), essential if the drones are going to be included in general air traffic. These tests will be complemented with experiments on a glider for a repetition of the tests in an airspace that is even more realistic.

Objective: to provide, in four years time, the various bodies responsible for the safety of flights, like Eurocontrol (in charge of air traffic control) and Easa (the European agency for aerial safety, responsible for aircraft certification), with the elements of proof that are needed. But this work is expected also to be useful as a basis for future regulations governing drones, setting out the procedures for safe human-drone cooperation.

Une réglementation appropriée  associée au développement de technologies spécifiques et à une formation et un entraînement adaptés pour les pilotes de drone ouvrira la voie à bon nombre de missions d'intérêt général pour ces systèmes
Appropriate regulations associated with the development of specific technologies and suitable training for drone pilots will open the way to numerous general interest missions for these systems.


Cécile Michaut, scientific reporter.



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