Guidance for ATCOs (2/3)

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Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM), U-Space

Drone flights can be provided with various parts of an Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) service or U-Space service, assuming the operations are fully contained within segregated airspace. UTM needs an agreed definition, and the interface between ATM and UTM then needs to be defined. The industry norm is that automation will provide this service. However, ATCOs can also be asked to provide a UTM (such as approval; segregation: drone to drone; separation: drone to CPA; FIS; emergency response; sequencing and merging into/out of droneports) in present airspace or future airspace (let’s envisage a new Class U). This is an area which is being focused on by IFATCA and further information and guidance will be disseminated as it reaches maturity.

Drones wanting to operate near controlled airports, generally within controlled airspace

The following are in addition to the general notes above.

Generally, drones are completely different from conventional aviation – except in a purely legal sense that they fly – which complicates their treatment under ICAO SARPs and Member States’ regulations. According to IFATCA policy: All Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) operations in non-segregated airspace must be in full compliance with ICAO requirements 💬 . The most conservative approach would be to prevent Very Low Level (VLL) drones from operating within controlled airspace. This would probably lead to more illegal operations and criticism of ATC.

A common approach by Member States is to establish zones (segregation) within controlled airspace where the risk of collision with CPA is deemed low enough due to a range of responsibilities being deferred to ATCOs. Responsibilities range from applying ICAO separation minima; segregating from CPA based on local instructions; or passing traffic on drone activities to pilots of CPA. Some procedures, however, provide ATCOs with no knowledge of drone activity, merely an awareness that drone zones exist and may be used.

Drone pilots wishing to operate within no-drone-zones, will probably be required to ask permission from the airport’s Air Traffic Control. From experience in other Member Associations, such requests quickly absorb resources and are often not considered to be priority work. Dedicated (staffed) sections have been established elsewhere, usually comprising of members of the CAA and ANSP, to negotiate the means of either complying with regulations or applying exemptions so that ATC can legitimately approve drone operations in controlled airspace. Without clear procedures, different ATCOs may either reject or approve a similar request based on personal knowledge, previous good or bad experiences, operation’s schedule and ATCO education. A clear strategy with guidance in the procedure for applying for permission (authorisation and then approval), agreements with each operator (procedures during a fly-away or loss of control event, during an unexpected change in the traffic picture requiring the drone operation to cease immediately, etc.), is essential.

Approving operations The assessment process of examining requests for drones to operate in CTA – when unable to fully comply with IFR or VFR, and rules of the air for the relevant airspace – must either follow ICAO SARPs (not yet in existence) or be administered via the application of the SMS through workshops, for example with appropriate stakeholders, followed by regulatory support and training of ATCOs. IFATCA policy: Standardized procedures, training and guidance material shall be provided before integrating RPAS into the Civil Aviation System 💬 .

In future, we may witness areas where drones have near-exclusive access to low-level airspace (e.g. below 1500 feet) and CPA need approval to enter. It is unknown what vertical division would be most suitable to address segregation and the need for new wake turbulence separation minima for drones and RPAS (as there are no ‘very light’ WT categories, and also the latency of response time to a WT event will be different).

Controlling (‘plugged in’) ATCOs should not be involved in the approval process for drone operations requesting permission to operate VLL in controlled airspace, as it may distract from primary duties. This is known to be occurring already in several States.

The future direction of change in ATM may see the introduction of new airspace categories, such as Class U airspace. And new flight categorisations (extensions of VFR or IFR) such as the proposed Eurocontrol Low level Flight Rules (LFR) and High level Flight Rules (HFR) , or discussions elsewhere proposing Basic Flight Rules (BFR) and Managed Flight Rules (MFR).

Another question necessitating further research is to decide the value of displaying position information from VLL drone operations on ATM surveillance display equipment, i.e. the CWP. This area of research will also be monitored by IFATCA.

Unapproved drones near controlled airports, generally within controlled airspace

Violations of CTA, sightings from pilots, public or drone detection systems, flyaway events (due to a loss of control) are all examples of unapproved drones in controlled airspace. IFATCA policy: Contingency procedures and controller training shall be provided for the management of infringements by Unmanned Aircraft 💬 .

There are pros and cons to many of the considerations for the ATCOs controlling the airspace. Is there a procedure for providing hazard alerts to CPA on unapproved drone operations? Should the Controlling ATCO vector/reroute CPA away from unapproved drone operations? It is possible the vector may unknowingly place the CPA closer to the drone’s trajectory as its position is most probably not displayed on the CWP and it is unlikely the CPA pilots will sight and avoid the drone. To maintain safety, the ATCOs controlling the airspace may need to close the airspace. Re-opening the airspace can only proceed through an appropriate safety risk driven process.

Continue to part 3 for suggestions to ATCOs and Member Associations

©2019 The International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations.

This publication is for your information only.

In all cases, ATCOs should follow their company’s guidance and procedures. In the interest of safety, reproduction in whole or in part is encouraged. All reproductions must credit IFATCA. This publication may not be sold or used commercially.

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