The aviation industry relies on various information and communications technologies (ICT) to enable its continued growth in terms of flights and passenger numbers as well as support the demand for ever increasing passenger connectivity. With the advance in technology new and novel uses of airspace such as:

  • Remotely piloted aircraft
  • Drones
  • Urban air mobility (e.g. flying taxis)
  • Space planes
  • High altitude platforms

have placed further demand on ICT to allow access to airspace for these new and novel uses which has inevitably placed increased demands on the available radio spectrum.

ETSI is responsible for the standards for many of them. In addition, within Europe, the Single European Sky (SES) initiative has added legislative pressure to replace the traditional, highly-fragmented air traffic control structures by more harmonized systems with interoperability being ensured through standardization where ETSI's expertise is being put to good use.

The Single European Sky (SES)

The Single European Sky (SES) is an initiative launched by the European Commission in 1999 to reform the architecture of European air traffic control to meet future capacity and safety needs, organizing airspace and air navigation at a European rather than national level.

The expected benefit (upon completion around 2030-2035) are the following:

  • enable a 3-fold increase in capacity which will also reduce delays both on the ground and in the air
  • improve safety by a factor of 10
  • enable a 10% reduction in the effects flights have on the environment
  • provide ATM services to the airspace users at a cost of at least 50% less

The initiative is based on a harmonized regulatory framework, in which the proposed technical regulation is based on Essential Requirements, Implementing Rules and standards that are complementary and consistent. In addition, great emphasis is placed on interoperability.

The modernization of the European Air Traffic Management (ATM) Network will be driven by the European ATM Masterplan maintained by the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU), whilst the fragmentation of the European airspace will be reduced by the so-called functional airspace blocks defined in the SES II legislative package.

Our Role & Activities

ETSI works with other organizations, notably CEN, CENELEC, the European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE), the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL), the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) as well as SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU) to develop standards for ground-based equipment that supports ATM including the Single European Sky Initiative. Additionally, as new and novel airspace uses such as drones and urban air mobility are integrated into the airspace, ETSI will need to develop standards to support these systems.

Air Traffic Management (ATM) and Data Link

ETSI has developed European Standards under EC standardization requests in order to support the widespread use of solutions like "Advanced Surface Movement Guidance and Control Systems (A-SMGCS)", "Data Link Services (DLS)" and procedures like "Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM)" in support of SES and in accordance with the European ATM Masterplan.

DLS is based on VDL Mode 2 Link 2000 and ETSI has produced standards for the physical and upper layers for the ground radios that use this format which are constantly updated in order to align them with the latest development in the technology. VDL Mode 2 ETSI standards are available as EN 301 841 series (ground part).

ETSI has also developed standards for VDL Mode 4. VDL Mode 4 is a high-capacity data link that provides a range of communications services that support numerous functions and applications in the ICAO CNS/ATM concept. One of the VDL Mode 4 functions is ADS-B, where a surveillance element is embedded in the system design which regularly transmits the user’s position. This information is used to manage the data link, but also enables a host of communications, navigation and surveillance applications to be realized in support of co-operative air traffic management from the departure gate to the arrival gate. VDL Mode 4 ETSI standards are available as EN 302 842 series (airborne part) and EN 301 842 series (ground part).

Ground based Aeronautical equipment and the Radio Equipment Directive (RED)

Ground-based aeronautical equipment (such as ATC radars) are covered by the Radio Equipment Directive (RED). This also applies to unmanned aircraft operating in conformity with spectrum allocations defined by the Radio Regulations of the International Telecommunications Union not specifically identified for aeronautical use.

The Directive relies on 'Harmonised Standards' developed by recognized European standards bodies such as ETSI which can be used to demonstrate compliance with the essential requirements of the Directive.

The RED, in its basic form, has the following essential requirements:

  • Protection of health and safety of the user and any other person (article 3.1a of the Directive)
  • Electromagnetic compatibility (article 3.1b)
  • Effective use of the radio spectrum / orbital resource so as to avoid harmful interference (article 3.2)

The European Commission has also the power to introduce, by adopting delegated acts, additional requirements for particular classes of equipment, for instance to ensure access to emergency services (article 3.3(g) of the RED).

The current work under this European directive includes Harmonised Standards (article 3.1b and 3.2) for:

  • radio navigation and communication equipment (Radars, sensors, ground systems for airports: L, S and X-band PSR, SSR including FFM, S, C and X-band MET, WAM, GBAS, A-SMGCS (Receivers/Interrogators for Multilateration, reference and vehicle transmitters for Multilateration, X band sensors for A-SMGCS), UHF, VHF, VDL Mode 2, VDL Mode 4)
  • Passenger applications (Mobile Communication On Board Aircraft - MCOBA, broadband Direct-Air-To-Ground Communications system)
  • Aeronautical satellite stations (Aircraft Earth Stations, aeronautical terminals communicating with Aeronautical Complementary Ground Components)


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A full list of related standards in the public domain is accessible via the ETSI standards search.