The EASA Basic Regulation set the ground for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (‘UAS’) in the European Union in 2018. It paved the way for the immensely important for the future of the industry two secondary acts: the Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947, which delineated the categories of unmanned flight operations, and the Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945, which introduced uniform standards for the design and manufacturing of drones. Those developments are discussed at more length in the article The Future of Unmanned Flight: An Introduction to Drone Regulations in the EU and Bulgaria.

However, commercial drone operations were still missing a crucial aspect: U-space or the air traffic management system for UAS which would ensure safe unmanned flights by providing for clear flight plans, geopositioning of the aircraft, navigation services, communication with ground control, etc. But U-space is no longer just a far-off plan as on 13th of May 2021, the new Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) on a regulatory framework for the U-space would enter into force (‘U-space Regulation’).

The new U-space Regulation institutes a framework for all the required services to be provided to unmanned flights in the higher-risk categories where most commercial drone operations are likely to be conducted. The U-space services are based on many of the conventional air traffic management facilities, which throughout the decades have cemented air travel as the safest means of transportation:

∙ Article 8 introduces the network identification service, which would ensure the clear communication of the position and identification details of the UAS itself and its pilot/operator, the aircraft’s position and route course;

∙ Article 9 provides for a geo-awareness service, which would guarantee that the drone operator is always aware of the operational conditions and the restrictions of the zones through which it is flying;

∙ Article 10 creates a comprehensive system for UAS flight authorization procedures similar to the approval of flight plans prior to takeoff in manned aviation;

∙ Articles 11 & 12 ensure the provision of two essential information services: traffic and weather information service, respectively.

All those crucial services are to be managed by the newly introduced in Article 7 U-space service providers, which would act as the guardians of unmanned air traffic.

The U-space Regulation would become directly applicable in all Member States on the 26th of January 2023.