Originally published 4:59 p.m.

BRUSSELS — The European Defence Agency (EDA) and an industrial consortium led by Airbus Defence and Space have launched a project to contribute to the integration of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) into common airspace in Europe.

A contract for the Enhanced RPAS Automation (ERA) project has been signed between the Brussels-based EDA, a European Union agency, and a multinational industrial consortium.

ERA is backed by five EU member states: France, Italy, Poland, Sweden and Germany, the lead nation. The planned duration of the project is 42 months with an overall budget of around €31 million ($34.6 million).

The project will support the widespread use of both civil and military RPAS, more commonly known as drones, in nonsegregated airspace in Europe in general and their integration in airport operations in particular.

The EDA says this will address several capability gaps identified by the European RPAS Steering Group (ERSG). To achieve its objectives, technical and procedural solutions will be developed and demonstrated by simulations and flight trials.

RPAS have demonstrated their importance in recent military operations, particularly for surveillance and information gathering.

However, the EU agency says RPAS can also offer a wide range of civil applications such as infrastructure surveillance, firefighting, disaster or environmental monitoring, as well as border control and management.

RPAS have been earmarked as one of four capability development priorities by the December 2013 European Council.

The ERA project also relies on collaboration with other stakeholders, such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Eurocontrol.

Roland Van Reybroeck, EDA's director of cooperation Planning and support, explains: "ERA complements the air traffic integration efforts of other related EDA projects, such as MIDCAS (MID-air Collision Avoidance System) covering en-route Detect & Avoid and DESIRE (Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe) covering satellite command and control data links.

"These projects, strongly driven by military requirements, have achieved tangible results, but there is a need to proceed with further investments, also in view of establishing dual-use standards and meeting civil regulation requirements."

The ERA industrial consortium is led by Airbus Defence and Space and composed of 16 partners from five EDA members: Airbus Defence and Space and ESG Elektroniksystem und Logistik-GmbH from Germany; Sagem, Thales and ONERA from France; Saab from Sweden; and Finmeccanica from Italy.

It also involves nine partners from Poland, including the Air Force Institute of Technology.