How Long Until We Have A UTM

There are many answers to that question, and the possibilities and complexities are endless if you can throw enough money at it. At this rate, with the quality of the proposals and the amount of funding and historical pace of the FAA, my guesstimate is a decade + for full RPAS/UAS NAS integration. All bets are off however if Jeff Bezos cracks open the Amazon Prime vault and kicks down with a few hundred million.

Ironically, I ran across Chuck Johnson’s PowerPoint yesterday. I still can’t believe he went private sector as he had some great ideas for moving the ball forward. Many of those same issues remain (calling out the lack of realistic funding levels for the smalls is how I got on the NASA naughty list), and I believe that the cellphone app model with questionable map data, reliability, problematic system security and lack of understanding by the hobby drone pitch people are some tall barriers to overcome.

For those who may not know, I was at the first pre UTM meeting. The FAA representative waxed poetically about how the drone community would be responsible for the details, such as who would be flying where, when and how many. Then it got really weird, as he proposed that the droners would design, build, operate and maintain this system and that the only part the FAA would play was to take it to the manned stakeholders. I don’t recall “who” was paying, but I guess it was implied. I broke with decorum, as I could no longer go along with the absurdity.

I asked if the FAA had something on paper they could share with the folks in the room as what was described sounded like a large task, especially for a room full of folks who had marginal experience with aviation, the FAA, or even drones for that matter.

Things got a little heated when I inquired why we weren’t using FAA forecast numbers. We went back and forth, but I had to remind the gentleman that I was one of the first people the FAA economist came to for them. The numbers were bogus by the way. I told the economist at the time that commercial drone numbers would be regulatory dependent, but they had to hit a threshold number, or there would be no action. Anyway, the FAA rep was retiring the following week so he wouldn’t be available to assist.

I will take the liberty of digressing here with another short accounting of the proceedings. After making my monumental tasks comments, Paola Santana (Matternet) asked the FAA representative if they could facilitate a meeting between commercial drone stakeholders and the manned stakeholders. The FAA rep stated that the FAA doesn’t do that. I interjected yes they do and it is called the UAS ARC. Paola asked if she could get on the ARC to which the gentleman replied we don’t know that she is qualified. I spoke up and said I was positive that she was more qualified than the representation the commercial end-user had currently, which was none. This kind of exchange gets you labeled as disruptive. As an aside, there where high power and well-paid drone “experts” and “advocates” in the room who did not utter a word.

Back to the UTM story. The variables factor on the unknown –

1. A system for how many aircraft?
2. Where will it be?
3. What does it look like?
4. Are there plans to certify any of this?
5. Will there be an onboard “detect and avoid” requirement?
6. Will the “detect and avoid” require certification?
7. Will the network and servers require verifiable security?
8. How much will it cost?
9. Who is going to pay, and when?
10. How many personnel changes at the FAA UASIO, Associate Administrators, Administrator, will we endure during this process?

NASA is supposed to be making recommendations to the FAA in 2019. How long will it take the FAA to make those recommendations a reality? It took nine years for the FAA to crank out Part 107 and that was far less daunting in the validation and certification department than a brand new Air Traffic Control system. ASTM and RTCA have been busy little beavers since 2005 with very little in the FAA adoption department, and the FAA has been on the case for 25 years.

Certification food for thought –

I warned the ICAO that the same cabal that hoodwinked the FAA might be taking them in. The hobby grade advocacy is embarrassing, we need a DER, and we’ve got duh. For people to trot out these cockamamie Silicon Valley cellphone apps, claptrap validated by good feelings, is an embarrassment that will be coming back to haunt us soon and for a good while into the future.

I don’t believe that the commercial RPAS/UAS community can only make money after BVLOS. The easy “stuff” is behind us, and now it is time to roll up our sleeves and produce a product that has value: regulatory grade data.

I know that people believe I am a pessimist (especially those trying to raise VC “fun”ding), but reality doesn’t always paint a pretty picture.