Honeywill and Pipistrel demostrate ground control station for commercial drone

Honeywell, in collaboration with Pipistrel, ENAV, an Italian Air Navigation Service provider, and D-Flight, an Italian-based company providing air traffic management services for drones, marked a significant milestone in advancing the operation of remotely piloted aircraft within European airspace.

The collaboration has resulted in a successful demonstration of ground control station technology using a multicopter drone at Gorizia Airport in Italy.

The key for the success of the emerging advanced air mobility sector is tied closely to the safe operation in both the air traffic management (ATM) environment and the relatively new U-space environment.

U-space uses a set of new services based on a high degree of digitisation, automation of functions and specific procedures created to safely allow a large number of drones within an airspace.

The recently completed demonstration is part of the SESAR Digital Sky Demonstration project, U-ELCOME, whose overall aim is to support the implementation of U-space services for the safe and secure integration of drones into airspace across Europe.

Honeywell’s Ground Control Station exhibited its capabilities in a real-world setting, showcasing features like dynamic flight plan updates and adeptly handling contingency situations.

When faced with challenges such as link loss or airspace alterations, the Ground Control Station, with its autonomy executive technology, proficiently diverted the drone to a secure alternate landing zone.

During the demonstration, D-flight rendered pivotal U-Space services, emphasising the functionality of flight plan submissions, activation and real-time data sharing on surrounding traffic and air-space availability.

The demonstration positions the contributing companies at the forefront of advancing technologies that operate beyond the visual line of sight utilised by pilots on traditional aircraft.

David Shilliday, vice president and general manage of advanced air mobility at Honeywell, said: “This collaboration underlines the imminent importance of autonomy in aviation.

“Honeywell is channelling its avionics experience to craft a certifiable Ground Control Station, underscoring our commitment to innovative solutions for the unmanned aircraft segment.”

Maurizio Paggetti, CEO of D-Flight and COO at ENAV, added: “U-space is crucial for the safe and efficient integration of drones into the airspace. It’s a key enabler for various applications and services that rely on drones and is an essential component of the future of aviation.

“ENAV Group is fully committed to demonstrating such services and, as leader of Italian cluster in U-ELCOME project, we are excited about the achievements of the initial integration of D-Flight services and Honeywell UAS Ground Control station.

“It represents an important milestone to mature the provision of U-space services in a complex ecosystem.”

Over the next year, Honeywell’s Ground Control Station is set to unveil enhanced capabilities, encompassing the management of multiple drones by a single operator and seamless handover of drones between different Ground Control Stations.

Demonstrations with these enhanced functionalities including BVLOS flights are slated for the second half of 2024. The U-ELCOME project’s final demonstration is anticipated to include an integrated showcase of Pipistrel’s aircraft solutions with Honeywell’s Ground Control Station technology and d-flight’s U-Space services in the second quarter of 2025.

The SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking is an institutionalised European partnership between private and public sector partners co-funded by the European Union to accelerate the delivery of the Digital European Sky through research and innovation.

The U-ELCOME Digital Sky Demonstration project is co-ordinated by EUROCONTROL, funded by CINEA, the European Climate, Environment and Infrastructure Executive Agency in co-operation with SESAR 3 Joint Undertaking. The Italian cluster of the U-ELCOME project is led by ENAV.