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  • Charl Jooste

FAA and NASA Deliver Groundbreaking UTM Drone Demonstrations

Photo: NASA

Despite the challenges facing the FAA (The Federal Aviation Administration) they have recently made several groundbreaking developments. The latest of these is the completion of phase two of their UTM (unmanned aircraft system traffic management) Pilot Program. This advancement will pave the way for massive developments in the commercial drone industry. These are exciting times for all stakeholders.

The drone demonstrations were conducted at NYUASTS (the New York UAS Test Site) and MAAP (the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership). The FAA partnered with NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) for the UTM program and demonstration.

The result of this effort is a solid proof of concept that will allow for the development of policies and standards for the implementation of a UTM system. Without this, airspace use is heavily restricted which is holding back the commercial drone industry.

FAA acting assistant administrator for NextGen, Pamela Whitley, explains “The demonstrations will help move us closer to safe beyond-visual-line-of-sight drone operations. Flight testing UTM capabilities in high-density airspace will help us develop policy for safely and efficiently integrating drones into our national airspace while benefiting and serving communities.”

The services demonstrated included the secure exchange of operators flight intent data and UVRs (UAS volume reservations). Remote identification (RID) for validation and authorization was another important aspect demonstrated. It also, importantly, demonstrated the safety and ability of the UTM to handle BVLOS (beyond-visual-line-of-sight) operations. This will be a great leap forward for the industry.

The work between the FAA and NASA, as well as several other stakeholders, started as far back as 2017. Although some developments have already been implemented, this latest event is a significant advancement for UTM, one that will profoundly affect the future of the industry.

It paves the way for increased traffic and density as well as more freedom with BVLOS operations. This is critical for a range of drone applications that will allow for increased safety, productivity, protection, humanitarian, and other drone applications.



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