Integration of MALE RPAS into European Airspace

At present, the regulatory environment in Europe requires Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) to fly in segregated airspace. Furthermore, each and every MALE RPAS flight needs to be approved by National Aviation Authorities (NAAs), and this process can be time consuming. Such restrictions limit the opera­tional efficiency of MALE RPAS operations in Europe.

The Challenge

To overcome these issues, and regularise MALE RPAS operations in Europe, it is necessary to develop and validate a comprehensive Concept of Operations (CONOPS) to enable the safe and efficient integra­tion of MALE RPAS into controlled and uncontrolled European airspace.

  1. Develop and test CONOPS to integrate MALE RPAS into European airspace, taking into account both nominal and non-nominal conditions
  2. Provide empirical evidence to convince all rele­vant stakeholders that MALE RPAS operations are safe and efficient to fly in European airspace

The Solution

To test and validate the airspace integration CONOPS, NLR has developed the MALE RPAS Real-time simula­tion Facility (MRRF). The MRRF consists of two pre-existing NLR simulators, namely the NLR ATM Research Simulator (NARSIM) and the Multi UAS Supervision Testbed (MUST). Here, NARSIM is used to simulate air traffic, and provides working positions for air traffic controllers and aircraft pilots. MUST, on the other hand, is the RPAS simulator, and it functions as the pilot ground control station. For CONOPS develop­ment, the well-known GA-ASI SkyGuardian aircraft, which has been procured by several European air forc­es, is used as a representative MALE RPAS.

The results strongly indicate that the new pro­cedures developed in this project make it possible for MALE RPAS to fly safely and efficiently in civil European airspace alongside other manned air traffic.

What did we do?

An iterative, step-by-step, approach has been adopt­ed for CONOPS development. The project has completed Step 1 which focused on developing procedures to mitigate several contin­gency scenarios that can occur in unsegregated air­space in the vicinity of a civilian airport. The consid­ered scenarios included loss of link between the pilot and the RPAS and engine failure, amongst others. The developed procedures were tested using a real-time simulation experiment in the MRRF with real air traffic controllers, as well as real RPAS and airliner pilots.

Future steps are planned to further improve the fidel­ity of the MALE RPAS airspace integration CONOPS. This includes testing the effectiveness of TCAS II, as well as to also consider the use of novel technologies such as Detect and Avoid (DAA). The onboard DAA radar provides RPAS pilots with additional situational awareness of the non-cooperative traffic situation around their aircraft, and it is intended to further increase the safety of RPAS operations.

Project partners

Industry (NL) : General Atomics – Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI)
Research organisations : Royal NLR
Start : October 2018
Duration : 2 years


Contact without image
Emmanuel Sunil
+31 88 5113453