Italian air traffic controllers operate a drone in civil airspace

(To Alenia Aermacchi)

After having carried out a first fundamental test for the flight safety of unmanned aircraft in the civil air spaces within the MIDCAS program last June, still using a Sky-Y from Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi and always taking off from the base of the Italian Air Force of Grazzanise, near Naples, the first in-flight test of a drone was carried out with the participation of ENAV, the National Flight Assistance Organization. 

The flight test is part of the activities envisaged by the broader MEDAL project (Mediterranean ATM Live Exercise), one of the nine demonstration activities of the integrated system for remotely piloted aircraft financed by the SESAR Joint Undertaking of the European Commission.

With the aim of verifying the feasibility of the integration of unmanned aircraft, defined as Remotely Piloted Vehicles, RPV, ENAV personnel at the military ground radar station in Grazzanise and at the civil airport of Naples-Capodichino in civil airspace , performed a demonstration simulating a normal civilian traffic control procedure with the remotely piloted Sky-Y aircraft in flight. The instructions for course and altitude changes were intended to simulate typical interactions with normal air traffic, preventing conflict situations. In addition, emergency procedures such as loss of connection with command and control and loss of power of the drone motor were tested.

As regards the MedALE test flight, the Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi Sky-Y RPA was configured to support the interaction between the pilots at the ground station and the civil air traffic controllers. The main modification for the Sky-Y ground station was the addition of a screen to show information on real surrounding traffic, through the ADS-B IN, the Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast IN, provided by Finmeccanica- Selex ES, partner of the MedALE Consortium, which supported the hardware and software integration of the new drone functions.
All the changes were certified by the ENAC (National Civil Aviation Authority) which granted the necessary Flight Authorization to perform the flight test.

Project MeDALE: 
The MeDALE consortium is made up of Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi, as project leader, Thales Alenia Space Italia, ENAV, Finmeccanica-Selex ES and Nimbus.
MedALE is one of nine “RPA Demonstration Projects”, which include integrated pre-operational in-flight test activities, co-funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU).
The MedALE project included an initial phase of distributed simulation involving the NATO Center of Excellence in Models and Simulation in Rome. Three RPA simulators have been put online with the aim of evaluating a complex environment: the Sky-Y, integrating for the first time a simulation of satellite Datalink (SATCOM) provided by Thales Alenia Space Italia and ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast) in Turin; the Selex-ES Falco at the Ronchi dei Legionari airport and the Nimbus C-Fly in Lombardore, northern Italy. To complete the scenario, ENAV simulated the (civil and military) ATC (Air Traffic Control) stations and the generation and control systems of the "surrounding air traffic". This phase provided useful information for many RPA operations and for proceeding with the final live tests described above.

The current European air traffic control systems have reached their limits of capacity. Furthermore, the number of flights in Europe is destined to grow and increasing environmental awareness requires more efficient operations and better technology. The SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU) was created in accordance with the laws of the European Union on February 27, 2007, with Eurocontrol and the European Union as founding members, in order to ensure the modernization of European air traffic management systems by coordinating and concentrating all related research and development efforts within the EU. SESAR offers concrete innovative solutions bringing Air Traffic Management from the age of VHF radio to the digital age. 
Broad, secure and rapid RPA integration requires enhanced coordination between the many participants and the different activities involved (regulatory, R&D and others). The introduction of RPAs into airspace will be gradual and subsequently lightened as technology, regulation and social acceptance progress. Nine “RPA Demonstration Projects” were undertaken by the SJU to initiate the investigation into RPA integration; these include integrated pre-operational flight test activities.