Welcome to the Future: The Next Stage of UAS Traffic Management

Welcome to the Future: The Next Stage of UAS Traffic Management

Phase two of the UAS Traffic Management Pilot Program (UPP) sets the stage for the future of Remote ID.

(Oh look the sky used to be full of Phantoms now its being populated by Skydio gear! (ED))

By Steve Bradford, Chief Scientist — Architecture & NextGen Development

When we picture the future, we might imagine scenes from our favorite science fiction movies, with drones that deliver packages, medications, pizza, and other necessities right to our doorstep (why yes, pizza is a necessity…).

Thanks to the emergence of sophisticated drone technology, the future is actually here.

The low altitude airspace has grown crowded, with more Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) occupying our skies every day. While busy skies are exciting and rife with opportunity, they also present novel challenges when it comes to the management of our airspace.

That’s why experts at the FAA and NASA have collaborated with industry partners to further develop innovative UAS Traffic Management (UTM) capabilities that safely and efficiently manage the national airspace to benefit our communities. In 2017, the UTM Pilot Program (UPP) was established to do just that. Since then, multiple testing and demonstration events with FAA UAS Test Sites and industry partners have advanced the technology that will allow UAS to safely share airspace while enabling innovation and progress.

In the summer of 2019, the FAA completed phase one of the program with the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, Northern Plains UAS Test Site, and Virginia Tech’s Mid Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP). Phase one successfully laid the groundwork for fundamental capabilities that serve as the backbone of the UTM ecosystem, including communication between operators and drone service suppliers and drone volume reservations.

UPP Phase Two, which wrapped up last month with MAAP and the New York UAS Test Site, took UTM a step further by focusing on how the use of remote identification (remote ID) enables beyond visual line of sight operations in increasingly dense airspace.

A Google Earth aerial map depicts a demonstration of Remote ID at work, with drones assigned “digital license plates.”
Image credit: KAIA Incorporated

It’s important to note that remote ID is a pivotal feature of UTM. It allows authorized parties, like public safety entities, to access basic identifying information about drones in flight — kind of like a digital license plate. This capability will help ensure the safety of operators and mitigate public risk while facilitating operations that benefit the community, such as search and rescue missions and healthcare initiatives.

Phase two of the program provided the opportunity to determine how remote ID can support UTM operations in ways that achieve public safety goals while protecting operator autonomy and supporting innovation. This is why we partnered with both industry trailblazers and public safety organizations in Virginia and New York: to establish a commitment to security and community wellness while adhering to the ASTM International standard for remote ID and tracking.

Going beyond what was proposed in the standard, we also tested cybersecurity measures to ensure that private information could only be accessed by authorized users. For instance, digital certificates from the International Aviation Trust Framework were used to sign messages and access tokens were provided to each UPP participant to ensure the appropriate level of access.

The purpose of UTM is to support an airspace that is safe and accessible to all while protecting the interests of the FAA as manager of that airspace, the operators who deliver the benefits, and those on the ground who depend upon FAA to keep them safe. UPP furthers these goals by providing proof of concept for UTM capabilities, a basis for policy considerations, and support to standards development for UTM implementation.

You can learn more about UPP by reading this UTM report