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U-space concept

U-space is a relatively new term used for unmanned operations that lacks a literal translation. It can be explained as a set of new services and specific procedures that ensure safe and efficient access to airspace for drones and other air traffic participants. U-space can be imagined as a new category of airspace defined by specific services to be provided exclusively within that airspace.

The regulatory framework for U-space (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/664) defines U-space as a geographical zone for unmanned systems defined by Member States where the operation of unmanned systems is only allowed with the support of U-space services.

U-space should not be understood only as a separate airspace for the exclusive use of drones, on the contrary, it will be a shared space intended for everyone (including e.g. air ambulance helicopters, motorized hang gliders or other general aviation aircraft).

Benefits of U-space

U-space brings a number of advantages. A significant positive is ensuring of a high level of safety for all airspace users as well as uninvolved persons on the ground. A specific operational environment will be created to allow for flights beyond pilot's sight (BVLOS) or flights with high traffic density. Automated aircraft may also be used to meet the criteria of minimising environmental impact, respecting citizens' privacy and protecting personal data, among others.

A non-involved person is a person who has not consciously chosen to become part of the operation of the drone, is not aware of the risks associated with the flight of the drone, and is also unable to control the drone moving above him.
To be considered involved in the operation, a person must:

  • give consent to participate in operation (e.g. consent to be overfly by a drone); consent must be explicit,
  • receive instructions and safety precautions from the drone operator/remote control pilot to use in the event of an emergency, and
  • should not be engaged in any other activities that would not allow the person to check the position of the drone and in the event of an incident take measures to avoid impact.
More information about the people involved in the operation of the drone.

U-space will be able to provide smooth operation of drones of all types across all categories, in all operational environments and in all types of airspace. By introducing U-space in the Czech Republic, it will be possible to safely conduct flights that are not legally possible today.

Practically, U-space brings a number of economic opportunities in the future. The use of drones in U-space can, for example, speed up the processing of blood test results, deliver parcels to a predetermined location, have your favourite coffee or reduce road traffic congestion. However, none of these activities can be realized without a high level of automation and digitization, either on board the drone itself or as part of the ground infrastructure.

U-space services

U-space has a legal basis that is anchored in a trio of European regulations ((EU) 2021/664, (EU) 2021/665, (EU) 2021/666). The key ones are Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/664, which defines the requirements for the establishment of U-space, the common information service provider, the UAS operator, the U-space service provider and the requirements for the mandatory and additional U-space services themselves.

The European Regulation defines 4 basic U-space services and 2 additional ones:

  • a network identification service that can be seen as broadcasting the location and identification of a drone,
  • "geo-awareness" service, which is an online overview of airspace restrictions, no-fly zones or conditional zones,
  • unmanned system flight authorization service, which can be thought of as a kind of flight permit,
  • traffic information service, which includes providing an overview of the surrounding situation,
  • additional weather information service,
  • additional compliance monitoring service.
  • Additional required services beyond those listed above may be determined by each Member State.

    In addition to the level set out in the above mentioned Implementing Regulation, U-space services (according to the SESAR U-space Blueprint of 2017) can be divided into four levels, U1 - U4, which are introduced gradually depending on their deployment time.

    Mira automatizace a digitalizace
    Figure 1: U-space phases defined by SESAR U-space Blueprint (2017)

    U1 - Initial U-space services

    E-registration, e-identification, establishment and publication of geographical zones for UAS. These services already exist in the Czech environment and their further development is underway.

    U2 - Basic services U-space

    Services supporting the organisation of unmanned flights, such as flight planning, flight approval, flight tracking, provision of dynamic airspace information, setting up interfaces with air traffic control.

    U3 - Advanced U-space Services

    These services already support more complex traffic in areas with more flights, and may include features such as 'capacity management' and 'conflict detection' services. The availability of this particular functionality will lead to a significant increase in traffic throughout the U-space environment.

    U4 - Full U-space Services/Full UAS Integration

    They offer integrated interfaces with piloted air traffic operations, support the full capacity of U-space services, and rely on a very high level of automation, connectivity and digitization for both the unmanned aircraft and for the entire U-space system.

    Implementation of U-space in the Czech Republic

    The implementation of U-space in the Czech Republic is the responsibility of ANS CR, in cooperation with the Ministry of Transport, the Civil Aviation Authority and other entities.

    ANS CR is already taking preparatory steps to build a whole new ecosystem and at the same time strives to become a significant leader in the introduction of new technologies, which the services associated with U-space undoubtedly are.

    The introduction of U-space in the Czech Republic is linked to a number of documents, mainly of a legislative nature (e.g. amendment to the Civil Aviation Act, European regulations etc.).

    The introduction of this type of airspace will be gradual, with the first phase being a so-called test polygon designed to test new procedures and technologies enabling more complex operations. Only then will it be possible to introduce specific U-spaces with the required U-space services. The aim will be to reach the target state when the entire Czech Republic will be covered by the U-space layer. However, due to a number of factors, the target state will not be realised before 2035+.

    Plan U-Space

    The implementation of U-space services is gradual and dynamic across Europe, and consequently around the world. Initially, U-space will be introduced in a segregated way, but with the aim of fully integrating drones into the airspace.

    The specific timing of the introduction of U-spaces depends on the readiness of the Czech Republic to declare these airspaces, both systemically, technologically and procedurally.