A comprehensive worldwide set of air traffic management rules for unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) could be in place by 2019 when ICAO next holds its triennial assembly, according to Frank Matus, strategy and business development director of Thales.
Aiming for 2019 would allow enough time for leading countries – such as Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom and United States – to continue to develop expertise in UAS regulation. This could percolate into other countries and into global forums such as ICAO, Matus explained to Jane’s on 11 December during the Global Air Navigation Industry Symposium in Montréal.
Matus urged participants in the UAS debate to adhere to the safety-first traditions that have served the aviation sector well, even as new services and technologies (such as artificial intelligence) make their mark. “Aviation is the safest form of transport for a reason,” he said. “We have to maintain that culture of safety… We’re going to a position where humans are participant but not always going to be the decision-makers.”
One issue for UAS traffic management (UTM) is the need for flexibility in complex operations, taking into account the capabilities and risks posed by unmanned aircraft. This would move away from the kind of blanket regulations seen in the United States, where operations with UASs weighing less than 55 lb (25 kg) are restricted.
Thales is developing systems for UTM, although Matus was keen to note that low-level airspace must be managed for all users, not just UAS operators but also general aviation and helicopters. “Thales does not look at unmanned traffic management, [but] rather at low-level airspace management,” he said.