The Principality of Monaco has launched an Unmanned aircraft Traffic Management (UTM) system, with regular c-drone flight monitoring by air traffic control to begin on June 17. At a demonstration during a press event on June 3, a drone simulated a delivery to a ship offshore, transiting Monégasque and French airspace and avoiding helicopters through Air Space Drone’s FlySafe platform. ASD explained the capabilities of the system, which is composed of hardware tracking units carried aboard c-drones, a web-interface server for air traffic controllers, and a smartphone app for drone operators. Monaco has announced its intention to develop regular autonomous air taxi service in the near future (see our interview with Françoise Derout, Co-founder and President of ASD).
Monaco is a small city-state on the French Riviera between Nice and the Italian border. The Principality, renowned for its royal family, Monte-Carlo Casino and Formula 1 car races, has a high population density and struggles with traffic congestion. The nearest airport for passenger airplanes is over the border at Nice; due to Monaco’s small size and hilly terrain behind the city, the only aviation facility is an 8-pad heliport facing the harbor. Helicopter traffic is heavy, with 80,000 passengers transported to and from Nice Côte d’Azur airport in 35,000 movements per year — every 15 minutes on average for the seven-minute flight.
C-drone traffic in Monaco is fairly light, with 500 flights per year, mostly by professionals; the Monégasque postal service just made its first delivery by c-drone on May 9, with expertise provided by local startup MC-Clic. That said, drone use is increasing. Until now, air traffic controllers have used the technique of spatial separation, keeping helicopters and drones, as well as drones and other drones, apart a set minimum distance. However, difficulties in communicating with drone pilots, the high volume of helicopter traffic, and the planned development of pilotless air taxis, have encouraged Monaco to seek an integrated solution which will allow controllers today to anticipate drone-helicopter airspace conflicts, communicating by radio with helicopter pilots and by electronic message with c-drone pilots.
Bruno Lassagne, Director of Monaco’s Civil Aviation Authority, said:
FlySafe by Air Space Drone will now allow us:
- Immediately, to fully computerize the handling of drone flights and visualize their trajectories.
- In the short term, to codify and secure the “dialogue” between air traffic controllers and remote pilots; this will foreshadow the new air traffic control methods to be put in place to manage remotely piloted air taxi shuttles.
- In the medium term, thanks to the development of embedded anti-collision systems, to consider new air traffic control methods that are alternatives to spatial segregation.
FlySafe will be perfectly integrated into the development of the Smart City concept in the Principality… From now on, both the user and the authority will use the FlySafe digital tool to communicate during all phases of a drone flight in the Principality: application for approval, issuance of flight authorizations, real-time visualization of flights, archiving and visualization of trajectory histories. And I will be proud indeed when the Monaco heliport will be very quickly classified as a “Smart Airport”.
Françoise Derout, Co-founder and President of ASD, said:
We are inaugurating much more than a low-altitude Air Traffic Management system; we are laying the foundations of a solution to a problem whose equation is based on two observations:
- The first of these is that saturated urban areas have only one space available to develop: airspace.
- Added to this is a second finding that by 2050, more than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities.
The FlySafe administration interface for air traffic controllers was demonstrated to the press as well as representatives from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), France’s Direction Générale de l’Aviation Civile (DGAC), and Eurocontrol. Drone pilots are registered and associated with one or more ASD Electronic Identification & Tracking System (EITS) trackers which use 4G cellular networks and GPS and are powered by the host drone. Sensitive airspace areas such as the Palais Princier are configured in Keyhole Markup Language (KML) format and overlaid onto Google geographic map data. These areas can be set as inert (visualization only), geofenced (entry restricted), or geocaged (exit restricted). Flight accreditation is kept on file and includes the name and contact details of one or more pilots, a detailed technical description of each c-drone with its installed safety equipment, and related information such as insurance certificate. Flight plans can be drawn as areas on a map (roads, topographical, or satellite). Once flight plan approval is communicated to the remote pilot and the drone takes off, air traffic control (ATC) has a realtime map view of the drone’s position, trajectory, ID number, altitude above terrain, and speed. ADS-B transponder data from helicopters and other aircraft are in the same view; if there is a potential airspace conflict, the system alerts the controller who can send a message to a remote pilot’s smartphone while speaking by radio to a helicopter pilot. The data from each flight is recorded, and each second can be reviewed on a map with time, GPS coordinates, altitude, and speed. The recorded flight path indicates problematic portions in red (conflict with another aircraft or geofence, low flight over populated areas, higher than permitted altitude) and can be exported in KML or GPX formats.
Remote identification of c-drones is widely regarded in the industry as a necessary development for integration of drones in controlled airspace, and ultimately for automated UTM. The devil is in the details: should c-drones conform to a technical and software standard, if so what should that standard look like in a fast-moving industry? ASD’s solution sidesteps the problem by adding a hardware tracker to every drone authorized to fly, and providing situational awareness of low-altitude manned and unmanned aircraft together.