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“Drone operations cannot rely on UTM, LTE or 5G – integrated back-up required” – GUTMA webinar

By Jenny Beechener

Connectivity between drones and service providers presents difficulties according to Bobby Healy, CEO and founder of Manna drone delivery company. “The problem is next to impossible to solve so we need a fused system of safety and fallbacks. You cannot rely on LTE alone, or 5G. Radio networks are challenging below the tree line. For safety we need landing areas.” This means drones must be able to operate in a non-connective environment, rather than rely on Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) for de-confliction.

The GUTMA Harmonised Skies webinar moderated by Secretary General Koen de Vos on 24 June 2021 examined UTM performance requirements and progress towards establishing an operating framework for UTM. Mark Wuennenberg, ICAO Air Navigation Bureau RPAS Technical Officer said: “There is a need to develop effective standards for both unmanned systems and UTM that supports interconnectivity.”

ICAO’s phased approach is driven by the ICAO UAS Advisory Group (led by Mark Wuennenberg) which takes input from across the industry through the Drone Enable symposia. “Unmanned systems and UTM need to meet the same level of requirements and all have to speak the same language.” Additionally, “the entire ecosystem needs overall safety objectives including the airspace structure and flight environment”. He adds the process is advancing one step at a time in collaboration with industry, academia and member states. “The Advisory Group has a speedy agenda that delivers on findings within a year and continues to build on past documents.”

Bosko Rafailovic, skyguide ATM Expert said Switzerland is already handling thousands of operations and identifies three interacting pillars: The airspace structure; operational performance, and service performance. “The range and variety of performance presents challenges, while the risk that an individual vehicle can pose to others is concerning. This calls for regulatory intervention and guidance.” He adds the true challenge is for Air Traffic Management (ATM) to interface with UTM. “These are very different ecosystems. We need to start talking about typical performance and families, not unique events. ATM has to evolve to be able to bring this to scale.”

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