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A robust and reliable connectivity infrastructure is now essential for UAVs says Airbus

According to Airbus Urban Mobility, by 2025, there could be 3,000 passenger drones or flying taxis in use around the world. That figure could swell to 100,000 by 2050, thanks to more sustainable, multimodal mobility networks.

For self and remotely piloted aerial vehicles to reach their full potential, they will need to receive vast amounts of data from multiple service providers. This data includes maps, aeronautical databases, weather forecasts, real-time traffic intelligence and situational awareness information. In turn, the aerial vehicles must also be able to transmit information of their own, including positioning and performance data.

Klaus-Werner Rueger, Senior Airbus UAM expert of data link and connectivity, said, “A fast, highly available and secure communication system is essential to interconnect all service providers and to enable interoperability for the reliable exchange of information.”

This communication system is grouped into two types that require different performance levels from the network: control and non-payload communication, and payload communication.

Control and non-payload communication transmits mission-critical control commands to aerial vehicles. This includes flight status, and navigational and telemetry data. High reliability, low latency and security against jamming or hijacking are paramount when transmitting this information.

Payload communication includes the remaining mission- and passenger-related data, such as web browsing or vehicle health for predictive maintenance.

The anticipated growth in UAVs is also expected to bring significant changes to the way air traffic is managed. In fact, a denser and more diverse use of urban airspace requires a more sophisticated solution to safely coordinate the movement of these vehicles in the air. High-speed, low-latency connectivity is thus expected to play a crucial role in ensuring the timely transmission of mission-critical data relating to their in-flight trajectory.

Therefore, Designing the right communication infrastructure to support these many applications is one of the keys to making UAM a reality. Airbus Urban Mobility is working to support this effort via the digital air traffic management solutions designed by Airbus UTM. However, the integration of UAVs into our airspace will not happen overnight. The following three roll-out phases are expected:

  • Emergent: Short, low-density UAM flights on a small number of fixed routes will have human pilots on board at all times. Airspace traffic management (ATM) services will be provided as in current operations.
  • Early expanded: Longer, higher-density UAM flights will be provided in a small network of take-off and landing areas. Some aircraft may be piloted remotely from the ground. The aircraft will have direct communication with the unmanned traffic management (UTM) system.
  • Mature: Long, high-density UAM flights will be provided in a network with multiple hub locations and no human pilot. This phase will use a unifying communication system.

Timelines are still unclear as to when the first phase will be launched, but there is no doubt connectivity will form the “unseen backbone” of this new generation of urban transport.

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