Why All Aviators Need to Work Together to Develop the Airspace of the Future
At OneSky, we work with experts, researchers, civil aviation authorities, and drone operators all around the world on developing the unmanned traffic management (UTM) system of the future. We have learned a great deal about what is necessary to achieve a Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) vision and expose the real value of drones to the world. The problem is that traditional infrastructure was built for aircraft flying at higher altitudes, creating a gap in low level surveillance technology that meets the needs of the drone industry.
UTM, which I’ve actually started referencing as cooperative traffic management, can be used by all kinds of different aircraft – manned and unmanned – and can leverage existing technologies to create systems that ensure a fair, effective, and safe airspace for all users.
A Fair Airspace is a Safer Airspace
We need to elevate the drone industry. Drones carrying defibrillators, blood supplies, and equipment are on life-saving missions. In UTM systems, however, the onus is on drone operators to find – and avoid – manned aircraft. Nobody’s arguing about the importance of that, but how can we ensure that we have perfect information about traffic along an entire flight route, without guaranteed information from all manned aircraft? That’s a very difficult problem to solve.
That’s where this idea of cooperative traffic management systems come in. The system isn’t just for drones, it can fill a gap for any aircraft not fulfilling an ADS-B mandate: crop dusters, emergency vehicles, or sport planes. If all aircraft use the same system and work under the same requirements, we’ll have better information that serves all stakeholders: drone operators, manned aircraft, and aviation authorities.
Manned and unmanned, we’re all aviators. There are no “second class citizens” in the NAS: it’s all about the mission. So, when it comes to ensuring the safety of the airspace, we need to make sure that we all operate under the same cooperative rules: and that requirements apply equally to all players.
Leveraging Existing Systems
Now to the meat of the problem - the drone industry is ready for advanced operations today. We can’t wait decades to build out brand new infrastructure to support drone traffic, and I argue we don’t need to. At OneSky, we’re asking the UTM industry for a shift in mindset: instead of chasing entirely new technologies, let’s leverage the existing systems that have enabled the safe and highly functioning airspace that we use today.
OneSky is incorporating these ideas by working on exploiting existing opportunities, like leveraging the ADS-B mandates, to improve airspace intelligence. More specifically, the US’ ADS-B mandate gives a tremendous advantage over other countries to operate drones BVLOS. The ADS-B mandate only went into effect in 2020 in the USA, so this is a novel concept to use our existing ADS-B infrastructure to conduct DAA and support drone flights in many of the populated areas where Class B (37 airports) and C (122 airports) exists. Information from RTCA suggests that 56% of the population live within the Mode C veil and even more would be in the Class C inner ring – that’s a lot of coverage.
With this data, we can bridge the information gap for vehicles flying under 500 feet by leveraging this proven infrastructure. Any aircraft not equipped with ADS-B should have to at least report where they are, so that manned and unmanned air traffic can avoid them. UTM (or cooperative traffic management) systems provide a mechanism to share that information. If all aviators are required to use the system, rather than putting the responsibility only one sector of the aviation industry, the system will be robust and efficient – and will materially advance safety in the airspace.
Here is a brief TED-style video on the subject which was debuted during this week’s FAA Symposium:
Help us realize the true benefits of BVLOS
This is just the beginning, we’re using this first project as a springboard for identifying opportunities to leverage existing technologies globally. We’re inviting drone operators, telecom companies, and aviation authorities to work with us on developing cooperative solutions that will ensure safety and enable the world-changing technology that unmanned systems offer. If you’d like to be part of ensuring a fair, safe, and efficient airspace please join us, and reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.