Airbus UTM Awarded Contracts to Join SESAR 3 in Advancing the Digital European Sky

As part of the greater Airbus Uncrewed Traffic Management (UTM) ecosystem, Acubed has been awarded three contracts to partner with the SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) 3 Joint Undertaking and develop more effective, sustainable European air traffic management (ATM). The contracts were awarded as part of a competitive process evaluated by independent experts.

SESAR is the technology driver for the European Union’s Single European Sky policy and a critical part of implementing the European Commission’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy. Building on previous SESAR work, SESAR 3’s public-private partnership enables the development of this sustainable, scalable European aviation infrastructure, utilizing new and emerging aviation technologies. As part of SESAR’s Digital European Sky research and innovation program, these three research projects – ECHO 2, ENSURE, and SPATIO – aim to utilize digital technologies to enable increasingly automated traffic management solutions for low-altitude to high-altitude operations and systems.

Airbus’ wide-ranging expertise provides SESAR 3 with the ability to more effectively integrate these developing services within the existing ATM infrastructure, while preparing for the future of UTM. As Airbus’ innovation center, Acubed will contribute to Airbus’ work on all three projects, continuing the development of a concept of operations for high-altitude operations flown by vehicles like Airbus’ first-of-its-kind AALTO Zephyr HAPS (high-altitude pseudo satellite), ensuring effective interface among conventional and unmanned air traffic, and providing solutions for separation management among unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Each project aims to demonstrate functioning prototypes or models in relevant environments.

ECHO 2 – European Concept for Higher Altitude Operations Phase 2: Towards the integration between Air Traffic Management and Higher Altitude Operations

Until relatively recently, flight at extremely high altitudes has been largely limited to military aircraft, but that is changing with innovations like Airbus’ AALTO Zephyr HAPS, the first stratospheric UAS of its kind. Zephyr is a solar-powered aircraft capable of flying for months at a time and providing advanced imaging and tower-in-the-sky, direct-to-device connectivity in difficult terrain.

ECHO 2 will build on previous work to develop a European concept of operations for HAPS, including Zephyr, as well as supersonic and hypersonic aircraft and long-endurance balloons, all operating in airspace above 55,000 feet. The project will validate the operational package required to integrate HAPS in the European ATM system, covering the use of dynamic airspace management in transiting to/from the airspace above FL550, contingency management, cross-border coordination and testing of CNS infrastructure. Flight tests are a core component of the project.

ENSURE – ATM U-space Interface and Airspace Reconfiguration Service

ENSURE will build on previous SESAR work in the AURA project, addressing the interaction between ATM and U-Space, the European framework for supporting UAS operations.

As unmanned air traffic increases in U-space, developing an interface between unmanned and conventional air traffic becomes increasingly important. ENSURE aims to develop this interface by creating a standardized infrastructure and operational approach.

With ENSURE, Airbus will primarily focus on dynamic airspace reconfiguration (DAR), in the case of drone operations in or around airports, for example. A DAR service will provide air traffic controllers with a means of reconfiguring otherwise restricted airport airspace, allowing drones temporary access according to their operation type. Whether the operation is an inspection or delivery, reconfiguration allows the air traffic controller to toggle drone access so that drones remain separated from conventional aircraft that are taking off or landing.

Acubed will support Airbus’ ENSURE research by running simulations in its proprietary simulation tool, USim. USim provides a digital twin of each element in the UTM ecosystem, simulating vehicles and operators as well as a set of prototype UTM services for researchers to explore operationally relevant scenarios and develop procedures for this DAR service.

SPATIO - U-Space Separation Management

Maintaining safe aircraft separation is a key element of ATM. As larger numbers of UAS join our airspace, effective separation management is vital to avoid mid-air collisions. ​​SPATIO research will address advanced services related to separation and capacity management in U-space.

Airbus’ contribution to SPATIO will build on previous demand capacity balancing work done by METRON Aviation (an Airbus-owned company) and Acubed in partnership with NASA, developing services for pre-flight strategic conflict management that identify imbalances between demand and capacity on resources constraining UAS operations. The SPATIO project aims to develop a Dynamic Capacity Management service as well as a Strategic Conflict Resolution service. For in-flight tactical separation management, the project’s goal is to develop both manual and automated approaches to conflict resolution.

Comprehensive Approach

While the SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking involves dozens of partners and projects, Acubed participation not only provides expertise in key innovative fields, but proven experience in the broader framework of ATM and UTM. From low-altitude drone operations to innovative high-altitude aircraft, Airbus’ SESAR 3 participation provides unique expertise toward the goal of an integrated and sustainable Digital European Sky.

- Scot Campbell