The European Defense Agency (EDA) soon will
launch a technical study that will have
vast economic and strategic implications for Europe’s
unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV
The goal is to define and then act on a comprehensive political, industrial and technical
road map that will enable military and civilian UAVs to begin flying through commercial airspace after 2012.
This approach will involve
institutional and industrial players across Europe, including: national governments, UAV manufacturers and sub-suppliers, the EDA, the European Commission and pan-European aviation organizations such as Eurocontrol
(the European air navigation authority here)
and the European Aviation Safety Agency.
Its success will hinge on two daunting planks:
convincing industry to invest in Europe’s future UAV dual-use market
and ensuring a high level of awareness among
road map participants.
“It will demand a lot of coordination and there has to be great transparency about what everyone is doing,” one EDA official said
May 21. “We all know where most of the barriers are, but they need to be drawn up into a single document of reference for everyone to see and for everyone to know what each other is doing. Transparency is critical to avoid duplication of effort: We don’t want a UAV player running from one source of funding to another for the same technology goal.”
The road map concept, entitled “Traffic Insertion of UAVs into General Air Traffic,” was fully backed by the EDA’s 26 constituent defense ministers during their meeting here May 14, along with approval for the agency to launch a
500,000 euro ($672,275
) technical study to define the road map.
The study contract will be awarded after the summer and will last about
six months, during which it will identify the political, technological, economic, industrial, environmental, legal/regulatory and social barriers that block UAVs from moving through regulated commercial airspace.
ying all the road map participants together will be
a common set of capabilities – surveillance, reconnaissance, search and rescue, and radio/communications relay – to allow any UAV, military or civil, to move through commercial airspace.
Each participant will shape its area of work according to the common blueprint. For instance, the EDA will coax national defense ministries toward joint military UAV research objectives. The commission will fund civil research projects to
air-insertion capabilities, while Eurocontrol and the European Aviation Safety Agency will focus on creating certification standards.
For its part, the commission is waiting to see how quickly the defense agency produces its road map.
“Our next big security research call for proposals goes out in mid-2008, so if they want to influence that, they better come up with something pretty fast,” a commission source said.
Europe’s UAV air certification challenge is less technical than political, regulatory or, to a certain degree, social. For instance, the road map will have to address public fears about pilotless machines flying overhead. While sense-and-avoid technologies capable of autonomously guiding a UAV through
civil airspace exist, they lack certification because international aviation authorities have established no regulatory standards.
That, in turn, is holding back private investment, along with fragmentation of Europe’s military UAV market.
“No single [European Union] country can sustain Europe’s military UAV sector, and even overall [military] demand across Europe is too small. But if we take a dual-use approach to getting the vehicles certified for [civil] air insertion, then all kinds of homeland security and commercial applications open up as well. That should make things much more interesting for industry to invest,” said the source.
a lot of catching up to do, however. As EDA Chief Executive Nick Witney told reporters after the ministers’ May 14 meeting, “UAVs are a flagship endeavor, but if you look back at the last two years, no one can congratulate Europe for what it has achieved. We haven’t made a whole lot of progress in decreasing the sector’s fragmentation.”