10 March 2022
Europe Hits Key Milestones To Launch Commercial Drones And Air Taxis
A key challenge us the enabling of widespread use of autonomous air taxis and drones beyond visual line of sight is the holistic integration of new and legacy air traffic systems. A European project dubbed Gulf of Finland (GOF) 2.0, kicked off on September 2, 2021 and demonstrated passenger drone flights under national flight regulations (Estonia). SAFIR-Med is the first project ever to bring an operating passenger drone to Belgium, the EH216 from EHang, and has submitted the request to the authorities to perform the demonstration under EU regulations during the executive event it is organising on Thursday 02/06/22 in Antwerp. SAFIR-Med also created a precedent with the linkage of telemetry interface between a passenger drone and the operator BVLOS Command & Control Center (C2C) that will thereby also manage customer order entry, mission coordination and European U-Space automated flight authorisation management.
The solution to harmonizing operations of manned aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and air taxis in shared urban low-altitude airspace is interconnectivity and data exchanges. The EU’s U-Space regulations codified how it should be done in a risk and performance-based framework. The Single European Sky Aircraft Traffic Management Research Joint Undertaking (SESAR JU), a public-private partnership of more than 3,000 international experts, supports the EU’s regulatory process, by creating calls such as the one underlying the SAFIR-Med project itself. This allows to provide real world research to back up and to further improve U-Space.
SAFIR-Med, which stands for “Safe and Flexible Integration of Advanced U-Space Services for Medical Air Mobility”, is a Very Large Demonstration (VLD) project to promote the use of unmanned aviation in healthcare systems across the European Union. The project aims to ensure that healthcare is of high quality and accessible to all citizens of the EU. The project has 17 renowned complementary partners from 8 countries and is supported by 12 cross-industry advisory board members including the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and The Red Cross. Within two years, the project intends to demonstrate advanced U-Space services enabling the highest possible operational safety level. These include ground information based Detect-And-Avoid (DAA) as a service, dynamic geofencing and air traffic prioritization rules.
As a part of the SAFIR-Med project, Ehang plans to expand this vision even further to healthcare systems in EU. SAFIR-Med will bring the EH216, Ehang’s flagship two-seat passenger-grade AAV1 to transport medical supplies in urban environment.
The demonstrations will take place in collaboration with healthcare providers like hospitals and medical spaces in the cities of Antwerp (Belgium), Aachen (Germany), Heerlen (the Netherlands) and Maastricht (the Netherlands), leveraging the MAHHL trans-border region. The project results will then be further demonstrated in two additional locations in Europe, namely Athens, Greece and Prague, Czech Republic. Prior to the operational environment demonstrations, a de-risking exercise at the DronePort BVLOS test-facility (Belgium) will take place.
EHang successfully flew its passenger-grade eVTOL EHang 216 for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) transport (passenger less) from the Tartu Airport to the Estonian Aviation Museum in September, 2021. What made this special was that the first ever eVTOL BVLOS flight in Europe has been accomplished successfully in that mission under national regulations (Estonia). Equally important, it has been proven that the disparate systems of the numerous partners can work together.
As the clock ticks closer to the 2023 U-Space effective date, the goal is for regulators to have the safety information they need to permit safe, cost efficient autonomous and semi-autonomous drone and air taxi operations in all environments across Europe.