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23 Dec 19. New NATO surveillance drones bet on Italian safety ruling. NATO members are relying on Italy’s safety certifications for the alliance’s new Alliance Ground Surveillance drone fleet, as questions remain about the aircraft’s ability to fly through Europe’s regulated airspace. The status of the airworthiness-certification process is outlined in a recent government response to a parliamentary inquiry lodged by the far-left political party Die Linke. According to the document, Berlin is aware that the Italian government issued a so-called military-type certification in late October for the Northrop Grumman-made Global Hawk Block 40 drones, five of which will be stationed in Sigonella, Sicily, in 2020.
But officials said they have no information about the scope of an additional certificate required for actual operation of the drones alongside civilian aircraft, or whether the drones are authorized to fly in Italian airspace at all.
Operating military, unmanned aircraft safely in shared airspace remains an unsolved problem that contractors on both sides of the Atlantic are trying to address. That is why, for now, drone flights through regulated airspace require special corridors temporarily closed to all other traffic, a burdensome process especially in densely populated regions.
That will be the case for NATO’s drones traversing Germany, according to the Defence Ministry’s written response, dated Dec. 18. The aircraft are slated to use the same corridor — limited to one drone at a time — previously established for the U.S. Air Force. The service sent its own Global Hawks from Sigonella to support operations under the European Reassurance Initiative in the Baltic region, most recently during three flights in February, April and May.
Collision avoidance by way of sensors and autonomous avionics is one of the technology fields key to making large, military drones compliant with safety regulations. According to the German government, the alliance’s new aircraft are not equipped with sense-and-avoid technology, nor do they feature a “Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System,” defense officials wrote.
Andrej Hunko, point man for European policy at Die Linke in the German parliament, criticized what he called a lack of airworthiness in the new NATO Global Hawk drones. Unmanned aircraft crash “significantly more often” than manned planes, including larger variants operating at high or medium altitude, he said in a statement.
Without the use of collision-avoidance features, the alliance’s drones would crash “sooner or later,” Hunko predicted, calling on the German government to prohibit flights over Germany.
Die Linke rejects the use of all types of military drones, whereas the country’s other parties have largely supported the idea that the German military should be in the business of unmanned aviation for defense. Still, there is no consensus here on the use of armed drones.
German defense officials are still reeling from their experience with a previous, ill-fated attempt to field a large drone for intelligence collection. The Eurohawk, another Global Hawk derivative, was canceled in 2013 in large part because it turned out to be uncertifiable to fly in German airspace.
It remains to be seen what types of missions the new NATO drones are expected to fly and whether the certification restrictions are serious enough to hamper their desired effectiveness. Surveillance missions outside of Europe may be no problem, but traveling to hot spots such as the Baltics and the Black Sea could reopen a safety debate that some officials were hoping to keep under the radar.
Meanwhile, NATO announced the arrival of the second aircraft of its drone fleet in Sicily last week.
“This second ferry flight across the Atlantic is another major achievement on our road to establishing a leading-edge Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability for all NATO Allies,” U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Phillip Stewart, the Alliance Ground Surveillance Force commander, was quoted as saying in a statement.
The $1.5bn program, which includes the aircraft and Airbus-made ground stations, is slated to be fully operational in 2022 following several years of delays. (Source: Defense News)
16 Dec 19. Report finds Irish military and civil agencies unprepared for drones. The Irish Air Corps and the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) are unprepared for the mounting danger posed by drones according to a Threat Analysis document released by the Irish military and reported in the Irish Times newspaper.
The research surveyed 86 Air Corps fixed-wing and helicopter pilots about the state response to drone safety. Less than a third said they believed the Air Corps was adequately prepared to deal with the drone industry according to the newspaper. Just under a quarter believed air traffic control is able to protect flights from the drone threat and 13 per cent of pilots felt they were receiving adequate education on the issue. Less than a third of pilots considered themselves well-informed on the drone industry. The figure for helicopter pilots, who are far more likely to encounter drones, was just 36 per cent. A little over 40 per cent said they felt well-informed on drone regulations.
There are 14,330 large, privately-owned drones registered in Ireland, with an average of 250 new drones registered every month since June. There are also many more devices which do not require registration with the IAA because they weigh less than 1kg.
A third of pilots said they have encountered drones operating while flying. Many of these were helicopter pilots who operate at a lower altitude than fixed wing pilots. All helicopter pilots and two thirds of all pilots said they had heard a colleague discuss encounters with drones.
There have been several recent incidents of drones disrupting civilian and military flight operations. In February, flights at Dublin Airport were briefly suspended following a drone sighting. This followed a series of similar incidents at London’s Gatwick Airport.
The study recommended measures “to combat a quickly evolving and uncontrolled RPAS market” including coordinated training across the Air Corps, IAA and the Garda. It is also advised universal drone registration by the IAA “in the interest of traceability”. (Source: www.unmannedairspace.info)
16 Dec 19. Singapore tests UTM system. Singapore has completed a second stage of flight trials for an Unmanned Air Traffic Management (UTM) system, a two-year project focused on enabling safe and efficient Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) delivery operations and Urban Air Mobility (UAM) within Singapore’s densely populated urban environment launched by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS). Flight test company Nova Systems, in close collaboration with OneSky, is leading a consortium to isolate the necessary mix of systems and technologies required to support the integration of drones in low-level airspace and safely coordinate their movement. Other significant partners collaborating in this flight test included M1, Scout Aerial, and Rohde and Schwarz. Nova Systems is also supporting Volocopter and Skyports’ demonstration of the world’s first flying taxi hub in Singapore.
CE Nova Systems Asia- Pacific Bret Barton commented: “Our trials have completed a study of the telecommunication network in Singapore, focused on establishing comprehensive 4G coverage maps. This is critical for the future conduct of low-level airspace operations in urban environments due to the safety-driven requirement for reliable communication links between the UAS, the ground control station and any traffic coordinating bodies.”
The trials included progressive flight testing from 0-1000 feet, testing of LTE connectivity in densely populated areas such as the Marina Bay Financial Centre where infrastructure introduces many urban canyon effects and maritime environments such as Keppel Bay. “Our team highlights that the safety and operational suitability of UTM and UAM operations employing 4G/5G telecommunications, requires focused effort to first establish signal latency, availability, integrity and continuity and subsequently isolate what the required performance needs to be,” added Barton.
“We’ve achieved a few significant, world-leading milestones during this suite of trials, particularly in expanding the assessed operational envelope for a drone’s communication and navigation performance in Singapore. One significant milestone is the progressive flight testing from 0-1000 feet, testing of LTE connectivity and importantly, doing so in densely populated areas such as the Marina Bay Financial Centre where infrastructure introduces many urban canyon effects and maritime environments such as Keppel Bay.
“Our team highlights that the safety and operational suitability of UTM and UAM operations employing 4G/5G telecommunications, requires focused effort to first establish signal latency, availability, integrity and continuity and subsequently isolate what the required performance needs to be.” Nova Systems plans to model the data collected to isolate performance requirements.
The next round of flight trials will be held in 2020, with a review of the UTM prototype’s functionality against an operational backdrop of multi-platform drones conducting a mix of VLOS and BVLOS operations. (Source: www.unmannedairspace.info)
18 Dec 19. BellTextron joins FAA drone pilot program in Oklahoma. Bell Textron has joined the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program (UASIPP) research led by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) since May 2018, one of several US research sites. The UASIPP program carries out preliminary work for future planned beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and other more advanced UAS operations. Future missions for the CNO UASIPP team include advanced drone operations – including BVLOS – for agricultural applications, public safety operations, infrastructure inspections, safe operations over people, and weather-related missions. (Source: www.unmannedairspace.info)
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