Boosting cyber security will be a vital aspect to helping the UAAM and unmanned sectors reach their full potential.

CGI is an IT services organisation with 40 countries worldwide about 80 000 employees. The company already provides safety and cyber secure systems for Galileo and EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service) and satellite communications systems.

Cyber attacks can cause drones to fall from sky

Director of UK Aerospace at CGI Steve Vance explained: “Spektrum is the invisible utility that we rely on for everything from our mobile phones but also including the urban air mobility sector to command and control drones and to also receive high streaming video for beyond visual line of sight operations. This air gap is a very easy way to cyber attack these kind of platforms using things such as jammers and this has happened in a number of different countries.”

“It’s happened in the UK in Northumbria but it’s also happened in China where there’s been drone swarms that have fallen out of the sky on crowds below as a result of somebody interfering with the spektrum and making the drones believe that they’re somewhere they’re not, which initiates internal mechanisms to cause them to descend.”

Drone interception by spoofing or jamming, which is a risk with UAVs with a high value payload, is another potential area which could give rise to cyber attacks.

Building resilience and situational awareness into cyber systems

Vance said there were a number of ways that companies could build greater security into their systems. He said: “The first is you can build resilience within your platforms, so you can use multiple forms of navigation and multiple forms of communication very similar to what we use in aircraft to build that resilience in. But, of course, that’s expensive and so the right level of resilience for the right level of cost is very important to make sure that we don’t completely price out the urban air mobility sector at those lower ends with the business case of what they’re trying to deliver.”

He added the right resilience would have to be in place before eVTOLs can start transporting people.

“The other thing that we can do is we can give situational awareness, so we can look on the ground, we can understand the spektrum and where that jamming might be occurring so that we can police it in a more effective way to keep the skies clear for these platforms or inform those platforms if suddenly a spektrum interference event is happening that they need to be informed.”

Interference affects 5 per cent of aviation travel in Europe

“IATA have made this recommendation for all ANSPs (air navigation service providers) across the whole of their jurisdiction to effectively sense spektrum interference and inform their air users because it now is affecting five per cent of aviation travel around the world… actually in Europe.”

He explained interference had been an issue, particularly in the southern Mediterranean and with aircraft making approaches into lower altitudes within this region. “As they start to come in to those airports where the spektrum environment in a city is far more contested and people are using these kind of devices, the aircraft systems can also be impacted there and if we transfer that use case to the urban mobility, we really need to address this and build additional resilience or situational awareness into our architectures for future air mobility.”

Tightening regulation will assist unmanned development

Vance said regulation was another aspect which could potentially improve safety and become an enabler for the development of the industry. “Certainly the first big thing is these jammers. In the UK, they are legal to buy but illegal to use, which makes absolutely no sense in my mind whatsoever. Why would you buy something if you’re not going to use it, so we have to tighten that regulation in the UK to stop these illegal devices to use being able to be purchased.”

“Secondly, we should build the right regulations in our platforms so the resilience and the situational awareness for the routes are representative of the safety risks that those platforms need right.”

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