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15 May 2014

AUVSI 2014: Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) to the Rescue!

Today, coastguard services are carried out by aircraft that are manned with on-board operators. However, Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) technology and related sensor suites have now reached a level of maturity that can provide real added value to, e.g. coastguard operations, notably through quicker deployment, greater autonomy and the use of smaller aircraft. For these reasons, several government services have expressed interest in replacing (a part of) their fleet with RPAS applications.

This is where the AIRICA project (ATM Innovative RPAS Integration for Coastguard Applications) comes in. Over the course of the next two years, the project will show the feasibility of using RPAS for coastguard activities in non-segregated airspace. The AIRICA project is one of nine RPAS projects that have been selected for co-funding by the SESAR Joint Undertaking, with the goal of demonstrating the feasibility of integrating RPAS into normal air traffic by 2016.

Closing the Gaps

By performing coastguard operations previously executed by manned aircraft in the North Sea area in real time, AIRICA aims to address remaining operational and technical gaps regarding the integration of complex RPAS operations into non-segregated airspace.

The envisaged coastguard operations will take place Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) and will involve (low-level) flights in different airspace environments.

Following take-off from an airport, the RPA will fly towards the targeted area over the North Sea, perform its mission and fly back to the same airport.

During this mission, the RPA will cross several different classes of airspace, where it will encounter different types of traffic. This means that the RPA must be equipped with appropriate sensors and on-board Detect and Avoid (D&A) capabilities in order to identify and deal with such traffic. For the purpose of this demonstration, a D&A system based on active Mode S interrogation and received ADS-B signals will be implemented and tested.

To optimally integrate RPAS operations with other traffic at the airport, the project will make use and test the feasibility of a Simultaneous Non-Interfering (SNI) concept for RPAS operations.

To meet acceptable levels of air traffic controller workload, the demonstration will also assess a system that provides controllers with detailed live information about the RPA’s waypoint route navigation.


Up until now, the majority of unmanned aircraft have not been equipped with D&A equipment, but given the envisaged coastguard operations and the non-segregated environment in which they will be performed, on-board D&A capabilities are essential. As part of the AIRICA project, D&A equipment will be integrated based on experience from an earlier project performed at the National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR), where a range of D&A functions have been developed, implemented, tested and demonstrated. The RPA will be equipped with an ADS-B transponder for detecting and locating other aircraft. It will also be equipped with a combination of active systems capable of interrogating Mode S transponders. The signals will be processed on board the RPA, but will also be sent to the Remote Pilot Station (RPS). When the Remote Pilot does not take appropriate actions, the RPAS will automatically take evasive action.

Expected Outcomes

The aircraft used for the demonstration will be a manned, optionally-piloted auto-gyro based on the ARROWCOPTER AC20 from FD-Composites. While the standard configuration is a two-seater, for this demonstration the optionally-piloted version will be configured as a single-seater.

The project will replicate a common coastguard operation in the North Sea area. This is an interesting demonstration zone consisting of nature reserves and areas of economic activity with daily low-level helicopter flights to and from oil rigs. The purpose of the demonstration is to show that the seamless integration of RPAS in non-segregated airspace is possible using relatively simple D&A system functionalities and straightforward communications with Air Traffic Control (ATC), with little or no impact on airport operations.

ARROWCOPTER AC20 from FD-Composites (Photo: Arrowcopter)

When performing surveillance operations within the mission area, the RPAS will be under the control of the ATC. A payload camera will be used to track (simulated) targets of interest. (Intended) intruders will be manned aircraft that will fly at a safe distance and/or be separated by altitude, but close enough to trigger an on-board action by the RPAS.

The remote pilot will have full control over the aircraft and will be the pilot-in-command. During the flight trials, a safety pilot will be on board to take over in case a safety issue (e.g. an unexpected system failure) requires their action. Data links will be used to provide the information exchange with the ATC.

The AIRICA project involves four project partners:

  • Netherlands Coastguard (NLCG)
  • National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR)
  • Glasemann Systems
  • Commando Lucht Strijdkrachten (CLSK/RNLAF)

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