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The second session of INVIRCAT real-time simulations organised by Royal NLR has just finished. Are you curious about it?

Don’t miss the following interview with Jürgen Teutsch, responsible for the organisation of this real-time simulation and validation manager of the overall INVIRCAT project.

Jürgen, in November 2021 Royal NLR performed real-time simulations for the SESAR Exploratory Research Project INVIRCAT. This project investigates the integration of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS, often referred to as drones) under instrument flight rules (IFR) into current-day operations at and around smaller but significant airports such as Rotterdam The Hague Airport (ICAO: EHRD). Could you please tell us more about the objectives of the real-time simulation?

The focus of the simulation was on validating the project-defined procedures for nominal operations of the remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), but also for communication failure and conflicts between manned and unmanned IFR traffic. Furthermore, the impact of the system latency of the chosen technical architecture (for communication and for command and control of the RPA) on air traffic control operations was assessed. Additional sessions evaluated procedures for a handover of the RPA between two different ground control stations.

Why did you select the Rotterdam The Hague Airport as operational scenario?

As the major aerospace research organisation in the Netherlands we support our aerospace sector by developing innovative products and applications. To this end, we selected Rotterdam The Hague Airport as it is a minor but important airport serving one of the larger metropolitan areas in the Netherlands. It ranks as one of the larger airports in the Netherlands behind Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, and served some 2 million passengers and about 50,000 flight movements annually between 2010 and 2019. For our simulations we needed to find an environment that would fit a reasonable scope in terms of layout complexity and traffic mix. Rotterdam The Hague Airport has one runway and a less segregated traffic structure than Schiphol. This means that the impact of integrating new users at this airport would have an immediate impact on the operation. Further, the operational solutions assessed would not be affected by measures protecting or prioritizing specific airspace users by default, as is the case at Schiphol, for obvious reasons.

Could you please describe the simulation environment?

The NLR simulation set-up included a high-fidelity tower and approach simulation environment (NARSIM Tower and NARSIM Radar) for Rotterdam The Hague Airport and a connected simulation platform for a generic Ground Control Station facility (called Multi Unmanned Aircraft Supervision Testbed, MUST) of an RPA. The chosen RPA was a fixed-wing Class VI UAS (in line with EASA classification) with performances comparable but not identical to a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper.

Did you also involve air traffic controllers and pilots?

Yes, of course. Experienced former air traffic controllers, who know Rotterdam airspace and the airport procedures very well, guided all aircraft in the traffic mix including the drone traffic. In addition, a military pilot familiar with the type of RPA we selected was responsible for control of the RPA in the simulation via the MUST platform. So-called pseudo-pilots controlled the remaining visual (VFR) and instrument (IFR) traffic in the Terminal Manoeuvring Area (TMA) and at the airport.

We know that this was the second real-time simulation carried out in the INVIRCAT project. The first one was held at DLR, in Germany, almost in parallel with the real-time simulation at NLR, while the third one will be organised by CIRA, in Italy, in December. Why did you organise three real-simulations and how are they related?

Three project partners (NLR, DLR and CIRA) are carrying out similar investigations for different procedures and in different operational environments. While a common aspect of our simulations concerned the nominal procedures for integration of the RPAs under IFR conditions, we used different types of unmanned aircraft with different performances. The NLR simulations looked at aircraft performances that were closer to VFR aircraft performances. We further had a specific focus on the operational impact of latency of the technical architecture chosen for communication and command and control (C2) of the RPA as well as radio communication loss. DLR looked at the loss of the C2 link and transponder failures for RPA with comparable performance of current IFR aircraft types, and CIRA will soon investigate RPA automatic take-off and landing procedures.

Interesting indeed. It would be nice to hear more about these real-time simulations. What about the results? How do you plan to use them in the project and when do you think that they will be available?

The results of the simulation activities of the INVIRCAT project will be published in the second half of 2022. In line with the validation plan of the project, they will be used for the consolidation of the INVIRCAT operational concept for IFR RPAS integration around airports and the associated requirements. Should you be interested in learning more about the simulations, please consider that we are planning a virtual open day in January 2022. Thus, keep following us on our social media channels!

In the picture above, Jürgen was briefing the RPA pilot during the real time simulation at NLR.


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