The Safe Integration of Drones Into Airspace

by Nicolas Sacchetti

Aerospace industry is undergoing major transformations. The emergence of air cabs, aircrafts with autopilot devices (remote pilots) and drones is bringing a new era of technologies transforming the skies and the societies’ views of tomorrow. 

Frank Matus participated in the conversation on May 13, 2021 about the challenges of designing drones and integrating them into airspace at the First P4IE Conference of the Partnership for the Organisation of Innovation and New Technologies 4POINT0.

To begin with, Frank Matus explains: « Innovation in aerospace has to be done with a safety management system. » Matus is Director Air Traffic Control (ATC) Digital Aviation Solutions (Americas) for the Thales Airspace Mobility Solution Business, a French multinational. Thales designs and builds electronic systems for various markets such as the armed forces, digital identity security, aeronautics, transportation.


The global airspace is a complex and interrelated system. Drones are now part of it. The utility of unmanned systems is  increasing: building inspection, road surveillance, emergency situations for first responders. They can also be used to deliver goods, such as a package to a package to front door, or food delivery. Almost instantly. Entertainment is also part of the range of possibilities of this technology. Frank Matus also mentions the drones presence at the President Biden's inauguration in 2021.


These new possibilities are a challenge: figuring out how to innovate safely and efficiently, without disrupting the global airspace management system. In this airspace, commercial, civil, military, helicopters, remotely piloted aircraft, as well as drones, must coexist.

"Our understanding of how to build and integrate drones, working from a common set of rules around the world, will help us understand how drones can be used to operate safely in the airspace structure. » — Frank Matus, ATC Director, Thales Group

For the ATC Director, the COVID-19 pandemic brought opportunities for aviation. For the next five years, the global market will recover from the impact of the pandemic and plan for the next steps in the implementation of drones in air travel.

Digital platforms

The aerospace digital transition is being slowed downconsidering  the extreme importance of security. Yet, a fair number of firms have turned to cloud computing and megadata analysis. Aviation technology innovation is at the stage of airspace system integration. Meaning to include in the overall system aircraft with large differences in performance, unmanned aviation or requiring a pilot, planned and unplanned flights. "We can't consider drone operations as separated from the rest of the regulatory ecosystem, it really has to be part of it," reminds Frank Matus.

Director ATC Digital Aviation Solutions (Americas), Thales Airspace Mobility Solution Business

Safe, Secure and Efficient Use of Drones

Matus presents 10 considerations to facilitate the widespread use of drones. Airworthiness is the performance of the aircraft. The purpose for which it was designed. The range of possibilities can be from simple play in a park, to flying overseas.

This is followed by the Pilot Certification - Advanced Operations. The pilot's skills and accumulated flying hours go hand in hand with the aircraft under his or her control, either remotely piloted or flown from the aircraft itself. 

Ground Infrastructure supports operations beyond the drones’ line of sight. Cellular technology, radar systems, and visual sensors define the airspace to ensure harmony between unmanned systems and manned aircraft.

Mission Approval is dependent on airspace airworthiness and available infrastructure to support the smooth operation of the transport.

Airspace Planning is socially important. The airport neighbourhood is being measured in kilometres. Living on the outskirts of an airport means a reduced quality of life due to low-level flights during day and night. Airspace planning is therefore of paramount importance. 

Then comes the Management of the Piloted, Remote-Controlled and Autopilot Equipped Air Fleet. Man/machine and eventually machine/machine interactions will be more and more frequent. « So having one pilot for multiple drones is probably the direction we're going, but we have a lot of work to do, » says Matus.

Secure Internet Connection is essential to avoid cyberattacks. Air Traffic Control and Critical Area Protection are also vital to the industry. You have to protect no-fly zones like the environment of a nuclear power plant, or where air traffic is prohibited. As far as Value Added Services are concerned, the evolution is done according to the technological possibilities.

Security and Trust Framework

Frank Matus conceives that eventually, flight certification will be linked to a national digital registry. Thus, to fly a drone, your identity will be validated in the national security database and unlock the potential of your mission. « Thales is the mix between public policy, existing technology, future technology, how it all fits together. » — Frank Matus

This content has been updated on 2022-09-14 at 22 h 25 min.