In this article, Bartolomé Marqués Balaguer, deputy director general of Aeronautical Systems at INTA for more than 20 years, gives us his first-hand view on the future of drones:
“We all agree that DRONES will be part of our daily lives in the near future.
We ask ourselves what are the challenges that must be overcome for this to become a reality, the main one undoubtedly is security and how we guarantee this security.
The two main factors are:
The Aircraft itself, the classic procedure is the CERTIFICATION of the same through the applicable regulations established by the Authority, which should cover not only the aircraft itself but also the control center and its communications system (in this case especially must ensure the non-vulnerability of the command and control system (the security in English terminology)).
At present very few Drones are certified, it is a problem of applicable regulations and knowledge of the many companies in the sector that have been appearing without experience in this area.
My extensive professional experience has taught me that certifying an aircraft already designed and built becomes an almost impossible task.
The regulations are selected according to each type of Drone and the first activity is to determine which Tests and documents must be performed, for this the certification bases must be taken (depending on the applicable regulations) and assign to each requirement the document or documents that will collect the evidence of compliance with the standard to be delivered to the Certification Authorities.
There is already an initiative of the company CENTUM to digitize and standardize certification documents that will greatly facilitate the tasks of certifying both companies and the Certification Authority itself.
It can also be integrated into a reporting tool that should allow to know the progress of the certification process of aeronautical projects, the critical paths and an estimate of the execution and completion time, based on the execution of the certification documentation and its approval by the Authority.
The Drones currently on the market are mostly from DJI, which are not certified, although it would be an excellent exercise to be able to determine their reliability due to their large number, this would provide a guarantee to the required risk analysis.
The operation of the aircraft, in this case it must be analyzed which is the place where it will operate if it is within line of sight or out of it and what damage may occur in the event of failure of the aircraft.
It is in this case, in which we currently find ourselves for non-certified aircraft, in which an operational risk analysis must be carried out to minimize the damage that may occur.
But these are not the only factors that influence the operability of Drones, after all they are aircraft that share airspace with manned aircraft or with other Drones and therefore share the same problems, aggravated by being unmanned aircraft, in the case of loss of communications with the control center so that they work in a predictable way, an essential element to perform air traffic control and therefore certain piloting functions must be automated.
An example of a critical factor for Drone flights out of line of sight, is the Detect-and-Avoid, for which different options are being explored:
In recent weeks the University of Valencia through the European project BUBBLES (which aims to ensure the safe integration of Drones) coordinated by Professor Israel Quintanilla, has organized a massive flight of Drones in a coordinated manner from a control center that detects possible conflicts by loss of separation and sends alerts to the pilots involved so that they resolve these conflicts and do not come to collide, of course this implied that each drone transmitted its position.
The FAA (Federal Aviation Admisitration) within its Drone research, education and training program is going to spend more than one million dollars in metrics, guidelines and test methods to assess the effects of false or erroneous information on Detect and Avoid capabilities.
As we can see, this is one of the key points for the operational safety of drones.
The aforementioned FAA is not only going to finance the Detect and Avoid systems but also two very critical points in a typically electronic system such as electromagnetic compatibility and cybersecurity for a total of 4.4 million dollars to the following universities:
University of North Dakota, University of Kansas, Drexel University, The Ohio State University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Mississippi State University and Oregon State University.
We must remember that the FAA has already approved these Universities as Test Centers.
Electromagnetic compatibility is the critical protective function of the aircraft and research will focus on risk assessment, Drone design vulnerabilities and mitigation materials and procedures.
Cybersecurity has become one of the critical elements to take into account, the interference of the command and control signal, by the fact of producing a loss of control of the Drone in the best case scenario or the impersonation and takeover of the Drone can turn it into a weapon.
At this point I like to make an observation about military drones that in the world of defense are treated as a weapon for flying in military theaters of operations, flying over the enemy and security and operationality are exchanged.
As we can see, there are still a considerable amount of elements of drones that must be analyzed, assessed and redesigned to reach the security levels of manned aircraft.
In conclusion, I would like to refer to urban mobility, the famous air cabs based on drone technology, whose designs based on quadcopters are completely outside the minimum safety requirements of manned aircraft, which in my opinion should be closer to the safety criteria of CS 27.
Air traffic control of drones and its implications, to which we will dedicate another chapter.”