European UTM milestones: a timeline for the past, present and future

The U.S. is set to make big waves around Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) this year, but what’s happening in the skies over Europe?  The Global UTM Association (GUTMA) this month dropped a white paper around plans for the future of European UTM.

The report, dubbed “The next steps to build the drone service ecosystem” spells out a basis for setting up the European drone industry to be successful and competitive when it comes to UTM, which is essentially air traffic control for drones.

U-space, a term commonly referenced in the report, is the European brand name for UTM.

Drones could generate enormous economic benefits well into the future (as they already are). And GUTMA’s goal is to maximize the drone services ecosystem. Established laws enables more growth.

“Drones are critical for the whole economy,” GUTMA’s report stated. “The competitiveness of the European economy is at stake.”

More growth means more companies, helping promote more use-cases. And one of GUTMA’s big goals is to help implement a U-space strategy to enable such growth because — if it doesn’t — business might go to other regions better set up t support drones.

“Delaying U-space and a late development of the drone operations puts the competitive edge of large swaths of the economy at risk,” according to GUTMA’s white paper.

One interesting GUTMA’s report takes a look back at where the European UTM system all started and how it’s grown. Notably, it spells out what to expect for the end of this year and into the next. And the timeline also compares EU rules with the U.S., making for an interesting comparison.

Here’s a look at the timeline (view the full version here):

European UTM milestones: a timeline for the past, present and future

Here are some highlights of the European UTM timeline:

The past days of European UTM

The EU Drone Strategy launched in 2014. For context, that’s decently far beyond where the U.S. started. NASA was developing UTM activities as early as 2010 in anticipation of a future of drones. And the Federal Aviation Administration formally defined UAS back in 2012, and launched its UAS test sites a year later in 2013.

Meanwhil, the EU didn’t begin establishing regulatory framework for drones until 2016, and the first EU-wide drone rules kicked in in 2019. Those rules established three categories of drone operations in the European Union (open, specific and certified), and added drone registration requirements in the European Union.

We saw the first European U-Space Regulation adopted in 2021.

The future of European UTM

EU U-Space Regulation is set to become applicable in 2023. That’s going to kick in roughly the same time that the FAA is anticipated to adopt the Rule on Networked Remote ID.

But as far as creating a thriving drone services ecosystem, GUTMA laid out a few other things that the industry needs. Those include:

Financing of R&D and funding of infrastructure: GUTMA says financing should focus on developing more complex U-space services, with a focus on crewed traffic to avoid airspace segregation. It also suggests that tests should blend technologies that include non-aviation stakeholders (such as battery makers and energy supply companies) for maximum success. It also called for infrastructure investment, possibly even taxpayer funded

Rulemaking and rule implementation: GUTMA used its report to emphasize its support toward EASA (the European Union Aviation Safety Agency) to develop new flight rules that fit the particular needs and challenges of drones. It also clarified that the U-space framework should account for all traffic in the airspace, crewed or uncrewed.

Governance: Beyond just safety, governance should help guide the framework of creating fair competition, whether that stems from laws, funding, etc.

“Fair competition is crucial for a successful deployment of U-Space services,” according to a statement from GUTMA. “Increased competition within the sector will lead to constant innovation and more affordable drone services for citizens and companies.”

View the timeline in its full size on page 21 of the Global UTM Association report, which you can read in full here.

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