UTM evolution approaches crucial stage

31 August 2018
The government of Dubai plans to start commercial operations with the Autonomous Air Taxi (AAT) before October 2020 – but some obstacles remain for unmanned aircraft to be incorporated properly into air traffic management systems (pictured is the AAT on display at an exhibition in Dubai in October 2017). Source: Getty Images

The next 18 months will be critical for integration of UTM with ATM, with much work to do

The central topic of discussion in September during the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Drone Enable meeting in Chengdu, China, will be the integration of standalone unmanned air system (UAS) traffic management (UTM) processes into national air traffic management (ATM) networks. Attendees will discuss ways in which low-level UAS operations can be integrated within the ATM operational and regulatory structures of air navigation service providers (ANSPs).

For many ANSPs, integrating UAS operations into the ATM system is one of the most complex challenges they have ever faced; the European U-space roadmap does not envisage full integration until 2035. A combination of technical, economic, regulatory and institutional challenges seem to make the challenge almost impossible. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects 1.6 million UAS to be flying this year, and the prospect of adding management of these operations to the workload of already busy air traffic controllers is daunting, to say the least.

Eurocontrol has been running a series of exercises at its Experimental Centre in Bretigny to simulate the integration of UASs into the current ATM network. The results are worrying. Even the introduction of a small number of UAS flights causes an immediate impact on overall capacity as controllers work to manage new levels of uncertainty in the system.

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