Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s recent address to the Transportation Research Board named three new initiatives for drones: but only one of them garnered the attention of the mainstream press. Chao’s announcement about the UTM Pilot Project could be even more important for the drone industry than the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for flight at night and over people.
The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management System Pilot Project (UTM Pilot Project) is a critical piece of drone integration and the widespread adoption of commercial drones. UTM is a complex framework including regulations, operations and technology solutions that will allow drones and other aircraft to coexist peacefully in heavily trafficked skies. Chao’s announcement that three test sites were granted a contracts for UTM development marks a significant step forward towards implementation of a UTM program.
“[UTM] will be distinct, but complementary to, the traditional FAA’s air traffic management system,” said Chao.
“The pilot project, through September 2019, is intended to develop and demonstrate a traffic management system to safely integrate drone flights within the nation’s airspace system. Also, the pilot project will create a shared information network and gather data that can be used for future rulemakings.
Through a stringent application and evaluation process, the following providers were selected based on the strength of industry partnership, the maturity of the technology offered, and overall cost: Nevada UAS Test Site Smart Silver State; Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site; and, Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership.
These contracts have been awarded to mature technologies for unmanned aircraft traffic management including, flight planning, communications, aircraft separation and weather services for these drones, which will operate under 400 feet.”
ANRA’s DroneUSS™ UTM platform will be one of the key players for two out of the three selected provider solutions: the Nevada UAS Test Site Smart Silver State and the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership. ANRA is a mature UTM solution – and the program shows just how far the UTM ecosystem has come. Begun as a NASA program, UTM testing has now become a joint project with the FAA: project plans estimate that implementation will begin as early as this year.
“It’s not an overnight thing, but UTM is moving forward. More and more pieces of the picture are being completed and implemented, and we’re moving steadily towards a robust framework,” says Amit Ganjoo, ANRA’s CEO. “It’s been a joint effort with a lot of players…but the progress has been incredible.”
A project planning document published by NASA outlines the purpose of the UTM Pilot program:
- Demonstrate the initial integrated UTM ecosystem comprised of UTM Services, Low Altitude Authorization & Notification Capability (LAANC) services for USS, and UAS Operators sharing intent and information collaboratively
- Demonstrate Dynamic Restrictions capability and the automation of parts 101(e) and 107 notifications & authorization
- Provide an understanding of the level of investment required for stakeholder implementation
- Final Report documenting UTM Pilot Program findings to further mature UTM
With the development of robust USS (UTM platforms) like ANRA’s, the rollout of the LAANC program, and greater testing and research continuing, the complexities of UTM are becoming clearer, both for the FAA and for drone operators.
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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