To investigate the operational framework and regulatory regime for drones in controlled air space, French and Spanish authorities have conducted an international flight of a French drone over numerous air traffic controller checkpoints.

As the Spanish air navigation service provider Enaire writes, the French Air Force’s MQ-9 REAPER, with call sign FAF7802, took off near Bordeaux and flew under civilian ATC to the Spanish border. There it was handed over to Spanish civilian air traffic controllers and guided by civilian and military controllers to the Barcelona area. From there, it returned to French-controlled air space over Marseille to the departure airfield in Cognac.

Unlike normal flights, in which drones must operate exclusively in closed areas separated from civilian traffic, this test flight was conducted without a special air space structure and operated alongside commercial aircraft. The drone was subject to the same air traffic control services as a manned aircraft, Enaire said. This allowed it to be separated from other aircraft, ensuring the coexistence and integration of this type of aircraft with conventional air traffic.

The drone followed its flight plan during the nearly four-hour flight and successfully passed the requirements from the safety and feasibility studies conducted by the European Defence Agency EDA, Enaire has assessed the flight campaign. Enaire and the French DSNA aviation administrations, as well as the military authorities in Spain and France, aim to promote the drone sector and develop a European regulation that meets the needs of future civil and military users of Remotely Piloted Air Systems.