The Inter-Galactic UTM Association And Beyond

The Inter-Galactic UTM Association And Beyond

It almost seems that a new UTM association springs forth from the Internet on a regular basis.  Usually the newer ones need titles more grandiose than the one before, as well as purport to have even bigger, more holistic aspirations for the fledgling UAS/RPAS drone community.

The leaders are true renaissance and don’t get bogged down in the old-fashioned rituals like being elected by stakeholders or other interested parties. It appears that there is little in the way of criteria for founding one of these groups beyond a press release proclaiming name and title, no apparent certification process or standard for these groups to participate beyond that. Usually, your new champion worked for an IT firm for a short period, and that is supposed to qualify them to represent the global community in airspace integration, public policy, and rulemaking.

Beyond that, we should be more interested in the substance of the platform than a title of Grand Poohbah of the Association, Secretary General or Ayatollah of Unmanned Air Traffic Controlla. Sure, anyone of those illustrious titles will look great on a business card; we need a little more to go on than that. Shouldn’t the advocate representing the rest of us have a platform that includes solutions? I don’t believe you can have a meaningful conversation without a basic platform beyond the obvious we need to fly BVLOS, and our members can sell you the solutions “they and their VC investors wholeheartedly believe” you will need.    

Many would agree that there are several fundamental considerations for a successful UTM. I’ve been asking around, and the only person who can answer any of my questions UTM wise is PK over at NASA Ames.     

The following are the sixty thousand foot level questions re UTM –

  1.    What does it look like?
  2.    Where will it be?
  3.    How much will it cost?
  4.    Who the heck is going to pay?

I’ll offer up the following as a community service and for the benefit of moving the ball forward.

  1.    What does it look like?

I believe it looks like a multi-layered combination of certification, equipage, infrastructure, mandates, regulation and standards. If you wanted to get a little deeper, we should probably include buy off by the traditional ATC concerns (union) and the manned stakeholders. This is a cellphone app you turn on and walk away from may be a hard sell to those who ascribe to the culture of safety notions, just saying.

  1.    Where will it be?

Do we need a full-blown ATC system for Bill’s Farm Drones of Cornbluff, Iowa  (population 320) who’ll be surveying a1000 acres of magic soybeans? Or, should we require Bill to get an additional endorsement and fly some iteration of a standards-based certified aircraft?

  1.    How much will it cost?

There is the real wildcard. The only thing we have to use as a story pole is NextGen, which is built on 75 years of experience and billions of dollars. I’ve heard $20 million to $50 million bandied about, but who knows what the next 10 to 15 years will bring.   

  1.    Who the heck is going to pay?

If you look at the published pilot numbers –

Couple that with the non-RC sUAS registration numbers and you don’t have to be Stephan Hawking to figure out either the public is going to have to pony up for billionaires to deliver Slurpee’s and burritos, or the user fees may prohibit many a viable commercial small business plan.

Closing commentary –

Of course, all of this is predicated on first defining the risk sUAS pose to NAS including those who may or may not be on the ground. ASSURE published some findings and many stakeholders in the airspace integration effort became aware of material density.  We need more science to make informed decisions and good policy. Just say no to any more ill-informed global blunders like the Drone Registration Task Force.  

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Patrick Egan

Editor in Field, sUAS News Americas Desk | Patrick Egan is the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, Drone TV and the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition. Experience in the field includes assignments with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab investigating solutions on future warfare research projects. Instructor for LTA (Lighter Than Air) ISR systems deployment teams for an OSD, U.S. Special Operations Command, Special Surveillance Project. Built and operated commercial RPA prior to 2007 FAA policy clarification. On the airspace integration side, he serves as director of special programs for the RCAPA (Remote Control Aerial Photography Association).