What Do We Need to Implement UTM

InterDrone opened today in a virtual format.  This final big drone show of the year offers a lot of great sessions, including this one: a panel discussion led by Eszter Kovacs of the Global UTM Association (GUTMA.)  Andy Thurling, Chief Technology Officer at NUAIR; Gokul Srinivasan, Director of Technology at Robots Expert; and Ernest Huffman, Principal Air Transportation Planner at the North Texas Council of Governments held a deep discussion on exactly what is needed to successfully implement unmanned traffic management systems (UTM.)

UTM is a critical piece of integrating drones into the airspace, providing the safety network required to scale drone operations in the same airspace used by manned aircraft.  UTM is not one single technology or one single regulation, but an interconnected framework of technologies and regulations.  Much progress has been made in testing technologies: but what do we need to implement UTM globally?

Remote ID

Remote ID, or the ability to track any drone back to an operator, is a regulation still not published in the U.S.: although a final rule is due by the end of the year.  It’s often cited as a major componenet of a working UTM system.  Gokul Srinivasan says, however, that Remote ID is a double edged sword.  “It’s a critical aspect of UTM,” says Srinivasan. “You need to know who [is flying] and what their intention is… it’s a great start for the future.”

The issue, says Srinivasan, is differentiating between “cooperative” and “non-cooperative” aircraft.  “You never have any problem with cooperative aircraft,” says Srinivisan. “You are always talking to them.  The issue is with non-cooperative drones.  I’d like to see EASA and the FAA combining aspects of counter UAS technology with remote ID.”

The Remote ID piece is integral to implement UTM, says Ernest Huffman.  “…From a community concerns perspective, it’s hard to promote the drone industry as safe when you can’t see the drones in the air.  When we’re able to share that visibility and transparency with the public it will go a long way to alleviating public concerns.”

The Effect of 5G on UTM

Srinivisan is working closely on the issue of 5G for drone technology – and says that it’s an important piece of the puzzle.

“High band 5G can guarantee you that.. you have coverage throughout your flight: high bandwidth, ultra-reliable, low-latency capabilities,” says Srinivasan.  “When you have that, you have less than 10 millisecond latency, which means the UTM system is able to track a drone that is moving at 20 meters per second.  This is critical to safety.”

“…The real money comes when you start operating BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) missions.  That’s where 5G is able to push the barriers and go beyond the normal coverage that 4G can provide with a single tower, by providing low-band or mid-band which can provide really wide network capabilities in terms of coverage.

Now you’ve expanded your area of coverage, and the possibilty of high bandwidth transmission. This guarantees that your drone is always connected to the UTM system, and not only connected but connected in near real time…  That’s where 5G is really making a difference.”


Ernest Huffman says that education is another element that will be critical for the implementation of UTM and the full integration of drones in the airspace.

“Workforce development has been a huge issue in aviation,” says Huffman. “That workforce development piece is going to be a huge piece for the drone industry as well.”

In addition to educating a future workforce to support the growth of the drone industry, Huffman points out that there are a lot of pieces of UTM that still need to be figured out – and then explained to communities around the world.  “Our cities need to understand what infrastructure needs to be in place, who is going to fund it, the socioeconomic areas… these are things we are still working on,” says Huffman.

Kovacs agrees that education is something the drone industry can’t afford to leave entirely up to the government.  “When we speak to the drone ecosystem about the drone ecosystem, we’re in a box, ” Kovacs points out.  “We need to go out and speak to others about drones – to a wider audience, to spread out the message.

This is really important, it’s our responsibility as an industry,” she says.  “We can’t wait.”





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