Italian air navigation service provider ENAV moves to become leader in European UTM

The bloating consumer interest in unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as drones, is far from a small niche. The aviation industry has only recently come to terms with this new market entrant and is at varying stages of adequately facilitating them.


Summary:

  • The Italian national air navigation service provider ENAV SpA is seeking to assert itself as a leader in the management of UAVs in Europe;
  • The European sector is expected to grow by 2035 to include up to seven million drones for recreational purposes and another four hundred thousand for commercial purposes;
  • ENAV has partnered with Italian aerospace and defence conglomerate Leonardo to jointly develop a UAV traffic management (UTM) system for all of Italy;
  • ENAV plans to create an entirely new company to develop, implement and administer the UTM system which could become the first ever pure drone air navigation service provider.

The use of unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs) comes with a prerequisite to guarantee security and safety, and this responsibility has been placed almost unsuspectingly on often unprepared governments. With a lack of common guidelines to establish regulations, drone legislation varies globally.

While something of a challenge to adopt for basic operations, the regulatory complexity blurs even further when trying to facilitate beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations, which are crucial for the development and economic output of the commercial drone sector.

Overall, the European drone sector is destined to grow rapidly in coming years, with estimates expecting up to seven million drones in use for recreational purposes and another four hundred thousand for commercial purposes by 2035.

The national air navigation service provider (ANSP) of Italy, ENAV SpA, is seeking to assert itself as a leader in the management of UAVs. ENAV has partnered with Italian aerospace and defence conglomerate Leonardo to jointly develop a UAV traffic management (UTM) system for all of Italy.

UTM is the air traffic management (ATM) industry’s answer to facilitating BVLOS operations. Leonardo is working as the lead contractor in a wider consortium comprising two other Italian technology companies, Telespazio and Ingegneria Dei Sistemi (Telespazio is a joint venture between Leonardo 67% and Thales 33%).

Under the agreement, ENAV will create an entirely new company to develop, implement and administer the UTM system – meaning the company could become the first ever pure drone ANSP. ENAV will own 60% of the new company’s share capital, while the Leonardo-led consortium will own the remaining 40%.

ENAV’s vision of the UTM system is for it to integrate multiple technologies for the safe handling of cooperating remotely controlled aircraft. The companies expect this means drones will have to be registered, authenticated and identified. Provisional plans also see the system supporting pre-flight planning, flight surveillance, emergency management and flight data recording.

Leonardo will be a key player for both ATM and in the development of remotely piloted aircraft capabilities. The company has a large number of radar systems and air traffic control centres installed globally, and has a range of proprietary technologies and services. ENAV is hopeful Leonardo’s expertise will also extend into cyber protection, which becomes increasingly important with BVLOS and, eventually, autonomous drone operations.

The role of Telespazio will be to integrate the system with value added solutions based on the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) and Galileo European satellite navigation systems. This means the Italian UTM system aims to be satellite based. The space based aspirations will be paired with on-Earth observation systems for georeferencing. Telespazio will also coordinate the maintenance of the UTM system.

Meanwhile, IDS will design and realise a so called “UTM-Box” component of the project. The capabilities of the product are largely unknown, however IDS will also contribute to the development of software services.