NASA has announced that it’s first and largest test of their air traffic management system for drones was successful. NASA and drone operators at FAA test sites across the country flew 22 drones simultaneously in order to test the UAS traffic management (UTM) research platform.
Drone operators entered flight plans and planned operations from geographically diverse locations, using different drones and software. “The UTM platform checked for conflicts, approved or rejected the flight plans and notified users of constraints.” says NASA’s statement.
“We didn’t have any testing problems today,” said Parimal Kopardekar, manager of NASA’s Safe Autonomous Systems Operations project and lead of NASA’s UTM efforts. “NASA extensively tested Technical Capability Level one and worked very closely with the FAA test sites, and the UTM research platform performed well. This test would not have been possible without the six FAA test sites – it was a collaborative effort to ensure a successful test.”
The 3 hour test was declared successful based on NASA’s defined success criteria of 16 simultaneous drone operations. In addition to the drones interacting with UTM, dozens of virtual aircraft were included in the plan. “After so much preparation and practice, it was very rewarding to see all test sites have success with weather, platforms and connectivity,” said Tony Basile, director of operations at NUAIR and New York test site manager. “It was additionally rewarding to hear from NASA that today’s efforts were successful on their end as well.”
Each FAA test site was responsible for planning how they would interact with the UTM platform, providing an element of change which allowed the system to test diverse implementation methods. Some sites used drones from different manufacturers; some used UTM software integrated with their own ground control stations; some used UTM software built into their drones.
While still in the early stages – stage one of a four stage process – the successful test will move UTM along in the process as NASA works towards handing the UTM research over to the FAA in 2019. UTM Technical Capability Level one involves rural drone flight within line-of-site: the final Capability Level four would involve drone flight in high-density urban areas.
The drone industry has been watching the development of the system closely, as a robust air traffic management system for drones is a critical component of full commercial drone integration.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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