UTM (Unmanned traffic management) and why is there a need to establish it?

Unmanned traffic management (UTM) system is designed to regulate drone traffic in the airspace. UTM system will help us develop safe and efficient drone operations by providing services like airspace design, dynamic geofencing, adverse weather and wind avoidance, congestion management, route planning, separation management, and more.

It is basically designed to prevent drones and other manned aircraft from colliding. For example, Zomato has to deliver a pizza via drone but another drone carrying medical supplies has to reach the hospital quick but the flight paths of both drones overlap. A successful UTM system will be able to establish the priority of the drone carrying medical supplies and re-route the drone carrying the pizza.

UTM will allow flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). Hence opening doors for drone delivery, search and rescue missions, inspections, etc.

Present scenario and problems:

Many Civil and defense applications of drones have been recognized. But no proper reliable infrastructure has been established to manage the widespread use of low altitude air space. With increasing drone operations there is a chance of their interference with manned aircraft.

Recently there has been a case of Pakistani drones dropping consignments of weapons in Punjab. The weapons were smuggled with the help of ISI. There is a threat of drone terrorism and for India to be ready to fight, there is a need for a fully functional UTM that won’t allow such drones to enter the country. In December 2018, the United Kingdom’s second-largest airport, Gatwick, was shut down three times in 3 days due to suspected drone flying in the area.

Challenges:

One of the biggest challenges to bring UTM to reality is the safe integration of drone traffic with is existing manned Air Traffic. There is no definite dedicated airspace for drones. UTM has to be integrated with the existing manned aviation management.

There are certain requirements of a UTM system to direct Drone flights:

  1. It must be programmed to maintain definite altitude and distance from people, objects, and buildings.
  2. It must be able to find the best flight path considering the type of drone, weather conditions, traffic, and short flight path.
  3. UTM must be able to handle complicated parts like takeoff and landing for efficient operations.
  4. Also, drones can not fly close to government buildings and in restricted air spaces.
  5. Must also safeguard Drone from obstacles like tall trees, mountains, and buildings.
  6. Technical internal failure is somewhat a common issue, UTM must be able to guide drones on performing emergency landings.
  7. UTM also needs to monitor the weather conditions and re-route the drone in case of any
    critical weather situations.

Incorporating all these requirements in the UTM system is a great challenge in itself. Along with this system, there will also be a need for drone battery charging or swapping stations. There will be a requirement of relevant investment to build this infrastructure.

How is India planning to achieve drone traffic management?

India has recently drafted a framework Civil Aviation Regulations 2.0 for developing the commercial drone operations. This draft policy also recognizes the need for the UTM system. The Digital Sky platform is the national UTM platform that implements “no permission, and no takeoff” (NPNT).

Drone operators will be required to register their drones and obtain an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP). For every flight (nano categories exempted) users will be required to ask permission to fly using the DigiSky app and an automated process permits or denies the request immediately. This will prevent unauthorized flights to take off. UTM will coordinate closely with Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) so that drones remain of approved flight paths.

For India to establish UTM, Belgium-based Unifly who is the leader in Unmanned Traffic Management is collaborating with Terra Drone India. Terra Drone India will be an authorized reseller of Unifly’s UTM solutions in India. It will work closely with India’s Central and state government, aviation bodies, and other related authorities to inform them of Unifly’s UTM solutions and help them develop drone traffic management.

Drones offer a completely unique point of view to various day to day situations and without the shot of doubt are destined to revolutionize tomorrow. UTM is a new and complex concept, and a full-fledged working drone traffic management system will definitely take time. It will be exciting to see how this progresses in the next few years.