Pressing Need to Monitor Future Crowded Skies

Humans have already occupied the streets in huge numbers. Concrete structures, automobiles, bikes, scooters, etc. all have crowded the streets. Now, humans are aiming to occupy the skies, too, and have already started taking steps toward the fulfillment of this dream. Decades ago, no one imagined aerial surveillance, but we turned it into a reality. In addition to huge and speedy aircraft, humans are aiming to add more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to the skies. Now, big tech companies including, Amazon and Uber, intend to use commercial drones for their delivery services. This ambitious dream is ushering a new system – unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM).

What is Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM)?

UTM is different from FAA’s Aerial Traffic Management (ATM) system. UTM won’t only help manage traffic but also other complex tasks, including data exchange, software functions, infrastructure, supporting operations beyond visual line-of-sight, and a lot more. A Research Transition Team (RTT) has been set up between the federal agencies and industry to execute the UTM initiative. Their key areas include data exchange, information architecture, sense and avoid, and communication and navigation.

UTM Stakeholders

UTM is going to be vital for the future UAVs, autonomous passenger drones, and remotely piloted aircraft systems. The operators and stakeholders represent a diverse set of industries, geographic regions, and objectives. All operators require a UTM system to realize the potential of high mobility fully. ATM has long been the trademark of safe and efficient global aviation. UTM system’s success depends upon having trust in the essential elements of the ATM system: reliable communication, predictable navigation, and trusted surveillance. Following are the stakeholders of UTM

UAS Service Supplier (USS): It is a crucial stakeholder who handles the important functions in the UTM system. Also, USS is linked to all other stakeholders.

Drone Operator: All registered drone service providers comprise this stakeholder.

Communication system provider: It facilitates real-time tracking and enables drone-to-drone or crewed aerial vehicle interaction and communication.

Data service provider: It provides data and information into USS, which helps flight planning, including weather information, geofencing, and surveillance.

Air navigation service provider (ANSP): It’s the regulatory authority that sets the performance criteria for the UAV operations. FAA, NASA, and several other federal agencies fall under ANSP.

Establishment of UTM

Controlling the airspace and setting up standards for all stakeholders is crucial to the long-term success of UAVs. UTM development will identify services, responsibilities, information architecture, data exchange protocols, infrastructure, software functions, and efficiency for enabling the administration of UAS processes.
The integration of UTM will pose several challenges and issues. In recognition of this concern, along with the US FAA and NASA, European Safety Agency (EASA), Civil Administration of China (CAC) and many similar organizations all over the world have ventures underway to identify, respond to and guarantee the safety and integrity of the current ATM operations.

Drone Delivery
Drone Delivery

We have identified six pillars that are essential for the establishment for UTM – 1) Delegated Authority, 2) Security 3) Technology 4) Infrastructure 5) Analysis and Optimization 6) People.

1. Delegated Authority: UTM system will utilize the commercial market’s potential to supply services under delegated agencies where the ATM system does not exercise much control – low altitude flights (typically 55 pounds or 25 kilograms). The existing agencies will maintain operational control for the airspace and legacy air traffic operations. This pillar will require ANSP governance reform. They will have to develop protocols, procedures, directives, and airspace classification.

2. Security: Security is of utmost importance. Commercial drone operators will be charged with ensuring the safety and security of drones beyond visual line of sight operation and tracking drones in the airspace to make sure that they do not cross their line flying zone.

3. Infrastructure: It is crucial to have a well-established for the success of UTM. It can further be divided into communication, navigation, and surveillance (CNS).

• Communication- It is a vital element of an effective air traffic control system. Direct controller-to-pilot is a trademark of air traffic management (ATM). Communication can save the day in the absence of any other tool. Special communication consideration needs to be applied to emerging needs in real-time, providing sufficient broadband and procedures for two-way communication.

Navigation- Avoiding collisions between other airspace users is an essential objective of ATM. UAV instrumentation may not be capable of detecting and avoiding other aircraft; they are often not equipped with anti-collision systems. Designing UAVs with these systems could help prevent conflicts by modifying the flight path based on predefined rules. The ATM system can’t function with ambiguity. Very high and low altitude operations will continue to require attention and definition, laying the groundwork for establishing suitable control-related expectations.

• Surveillance: Automation platforms show surveillance data to the air traffic operations, however, its effectiveness is limited to those aircraft providing flight information. Adequate surveillance will require a resolution or several possible solutions to the issue of aircraft tracking. The technology will need to be capable of enabling all tracking methods.

4. Technology: The transformation of aircraft tracking, software, and drone tracking have far ousted current ATM systems. Leading market innovators are developing solutions that use developing technologies and provide future-ready practical solutions. People’s Safety and security will be of utmost concern. Regulatory processes inevitably lag the pace of development in technology, so UTM must be prepared to address these challenges. NASA is leading the venture with a UTM system designed to enable commercial use of UAS within lower-altitude airspace.

5. Analysis and Optimization: In the future, commercial drones and other flying vehicles will generate a tremendous amount of data about their locations, flight routes, and speeds. Using data analytics will provide valuable insight to assist in real-time optimizing travel and route planning. Automation and AI will create opportunities to improve performance, accuracy, and safety.

6. People: Each stakeholder needs to identify their place and understand their role in establishing a UTM system. Every stakeholder in some way or the other is crossing path with all other parts of the system, and all must see it the whole and recognize the necessity of co-operation. Public concerns may also include loss of employment since commercial drones will replace human workers in some sectors. Throughout the execution process of UTM, change management is essential and must consist of training.

Future for UTM

Industry leaders around the world are coining innovative applications for UAVs. Based on the last year’s data, the UTM market was $538 million. Think tanks predict the market to reach $1.96 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 20%. It is said that commercial drones will drive the market to new heights, as industry leaders coin innovative ways to gather information, improve logistics, and move goods as well as people using UAVs. Each stakeholder here has a role to play in UTM’s development and execution.


1. How UTM is different from ATM?

Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) is very different than existing air traffic management (ATM). UTM does not only manage traffic but also provide solution on complex factors including data exchange protocols, software functions, supports operations beyond visual line-of-sight, etc.

2. What is the current market worth of UTM?

According to 2018’s data, the market worth of UTM was $538 million. Experts think the market will reach $1.96 billion in worth by 2025 at a CAGR of 20%.

3. What are the Pillars of UTM?

There are six robust pillars on which construction of UTM is taking place. 1) Regulatory agency, 2) Technology, 3) Infrastructure, 4) Security, 5) Analysis and optimization and 6) People.

By Emelia Murison

Emelia Murison is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for innovation and technology. She covers breaking industry news, #SpaceForGood, and product reviews for the group. She also provides copywriting services to startups around the world – one of which introduced her to the world of Aerospace.

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