The International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences
Publications Copernicus
Articles | Volume XXXVIII-1/C22
Int. Arch. Photogramm. Remote Sens. Spatial Inf. Sci., XXXVIII-1/C22, 1–5, 2011
Int. Arch. Photogramm. Remote Sens. Spatial Inf. Sci., XXXVIII-1/C22, 1–5, 2011

  06 Sep 2012

06 Sep 2012


J. Everaerts and N. Lewyckyj J. Everaerts and N. Lewyckyj
  • Remote Sensing Unit, VITO, Boeretang 200, 2400 Mol, Belgium

Keywords: Uavs, Photogrammetry, Regulations

Abstract. Ever since 2000, VITO has been working on the Pegasus project. This involves a solar High Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (HALE-UAV) as a stratospheric platform for Earth Observation. This aircraft, called Mercator, is designed to fly for prolonged duration at altitudes up to 20 km. The technology has been proven by the aircraft’s manufacturer, QinetiQ (UK) by a series of test flights over the past years, culminating in a world record flight in duration of over 14 days duration. All test flights, however, were conducted in test ranges, where other air traffic does not pose a concern.
Pegasus aims to demonstrate the viability of stratospheric Earth Observation in Belgium, as a proof of concept for other areas around the world. The Belgian air space is completely different from a test range. More than 1 million aircraft movements take place over Belgium and Luxembourg every year, with routes to Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, and London. Although Pegasus will usually be flying above this dense traffic, it does interfere with it during ascent and landing, and needs to be monitored during the cruise phase for safety reasons. Air traffic management in Belgium is a shared responsibility of Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) Belgocontrol (civil), ATCC (military) and Eurocontrol MUAC (high altitude).
In 2010, VITO applied for a permit-to-fly for a test flight of one day duration. Although the Belgian Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had issued a regulation on UAVs in 2007, it was the first application for a permit to fly in controlled airspace. The Belgian CAA decided to use it as a test for the procedures as well. A prerequisite for flying in controlled airspace was that the aircraft has to carry a mode-S transponder and navigation lights.
During first half of 2010, the ANSPs collaborated on a Temporary Operations Instruction and studied the safety impact of this flight on their operations. As an outcome, they decided that the Pegasus aircraft would be separated from other air traffic by a "moving box" around it. By the end of August, a permit-to-fly was issued by Belgian CAA.
The paper describes the application process, and highlights the issues that were raised by the ANSPs and Belgian CAA. This should be comparable to what authorities in other crowded places would impose, and hence be a good starting point for everyone trying to use UAVs for Earth Observation at altitudes above a few hundreds meters in most of the world.