U-Space System to Unlock Swiss Drone Airspace

Drone quadcopter

Switzerland is poised to become the first country to test integrating drones into its air traffic control management system.

A new system will see the introduction of automated flight authorisation and cataloguing of drones. This first step will see drones being tracked, which will increase drone operator accountability and greater ease for pilots to obtain authorisation to fly. The limited integration will be part of a wider European project called U-space. It is a collaborative effort to create a safer drone ecosystem, which will include data exchange and better digital communication, which will provide drone pilots with better situational analysis.

U-Space’s digital infrastructure will support safe and efficient access to approved European airspace for millions of small drones. The project is being delivered by AirMap, a digital airspace mapping platform in partnership with Skyguide, the Swiss air navigation service provider. As of June the two will begin to merge their data and traffic management applications. Data sharing paired with digital communication, will see pilots receive notifications concerning areas that are geofenced airspace, GPS defined areas that are strictly off limits to drones.

These spaces are routinely subject to change, which can cause confusion. However, under the new system if a pilot inadvertently crossed into the delineated zone they will receive an immediate notification either to their phone or a tablet used to control the drone. Air traffic managers will also benefit as they will have up-to-date information on who is flying a drone where.

Setting a Positive Example

This could be a key move to opening the commercial market for drone services. Currently, the process of applying for permission to fly at low-altitude is cumbersome and lengthy, by speeding this process up it will support the commercial drone industry. The European Commission estimates that the global marketplace for UAVs will generate more than 10 billion Euros each year by 2035 and Switzerland will be at the forefront to benefit from it.

If this system is successfully adopted it could be key in enabling drone deliveries. U-Space will be rolled out in four phases between 2018 and 2021 and is purely voluntary, so how many pilots will join is still up in the air.

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