EDA’s groundwork to help Member States move towards the integration of MALE-type Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in civil air traffic in non-segregated airspace received a significant boost recently when a live MALE RPAS flight test carried out by the French Air Force (FAF) contributed to paving the way for the validation of the risk analysis previously done in an Agency study carried out in 2018/19 as well as the EDA and EASA guidelines.
To date, the conclusions of EDA’s study on the ‘Accommodation of MALE-type RPAS: scenarios and safety case’, delivered in February 2019, had only been tested through simulations but never under real flight conditions. On 19 May 2020, the French Air Force flew a REAPER RPAS, based in the military airbase of Cognac, in civil air traffic beyond segregated airspace. During this over three-hour flight, several hand-overs were carried out between civilian air traffic control centers in Bordeaux and Marseille. Portions of the cruise were carried out in upper airspace, up to FL 230. The RPAS had no specific onboard equipment such as a detect and avoid system.
The result was a genuine success, as General Reutter, the Director of the French Military Authority, confirmed afterwards in a press statement: "With this operational exercise, we can confirm risk analysis under the auspice of the European Defence Agency. We are proud that these results can feed the Guidelines for Accommodations from the EDA and EASA. They will participate in the current working on the part 'Certified' of the ongoing civil drone European regulation and should facilitate the implementation of the European MALE program”. The full press release is available here.
EDA’s study was ordered in 2018 as part of the Agency’s effort to support Member States in the area of MALE-type RPAS air traffic integration. The study conclusions published in February 2019 provided tailored risk assessments and an enhanced aviation safety case assessment methodology for MALE-type RPAS flying in non-segregated European airspace, alongside manned aviation. Following the presentation of those simulations results, France offered the possibility to perform real flights with a MALE-type RPAS (the FAF Reapers), including a cross-border portion. The successful results of the French test flight will now feed the guidelines for accommodation developed by EDA and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and will be used for the ongoing work on the ‘Certified’ part of the European civil drone regulation.
This year, there will be additional cross-borders flights performed by FAF Reapers in the framework of the EDA Accommodation Validation study.