“FAA successful UPP demonstrations now provide basis for initial UTM deployment”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that NASA, the FAA and partners in a pilot program laying the groundwork for an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) traffic management system (UTM) successfully demonstrated how such a system can work in the future.

“The demonstrations, conducted at three separate test sites selected by the FAA for the UAS Traffic Management Pilot Program (UPP), showed that multiple, Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone operations can be safely conducted at low altitudes (below 400 feet) in airspace where FAA air traffic services are not provided. As demand for low altitude drone use increases, the FAA, NASA and the UPP partners are working together to accommodate these operations safely and efficiently. In January, the FAA selected three UPP test sites: the Mid Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) at Virginia Tech, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS) in Grand Forks, N.D., and the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) in Las Vegas, Nev.

“The first demonstration, which involved the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP), took place at Virginia Tech on June 13. During the demonstration, separate drone flights delivered packages, studied wildlife, surveyed a corn field and covered a court case for TV. Because the flights were near an airport, all four flight plans were submitted through a service supplier and received approval to launch as planned.  While these flights were being conducted, an emergency helicopter needed to quickly transport a car crash victim to a hospital. The helicopter pilot submitted a request for a UAS Volume Reservation (UVR) an alert used to notify nearby drone operators of the emergency. The deliveries were re-routed until the UVR was completed.  The wildlife study, field survey and court coverage continued safely away from the helicopter’s path. Each operation was conducted without conflict.

“The second demonstration, which involved the Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS), took place in Grand Forks on July 10. During the demonstration, which occurred near an airport, a photographer and Part 107 drone operator took photos of firefighter training. An aviation student at the University of North Dakota used a drone to scan for the best tailgating location. Another Part 107 operator, employed at the electric company, used a drone to assess power line damage after recent strong winds. The two Part 107 operators submitted flight plans due to their proximity to an airport, receiving proper approvals. During their flights, they received a UVR alert that a medevac helicopter was transporting a patient to the hospital from the firefighter training area. The operator taking photos of the training landed the drone before the UVR notice became active. The power line survey and the flight over the tailgate area continued at a safe distance.

“The third, which involved the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS), took place in Las Vegas on August 1. During the demonstration, separate UAS flights were conducted to survey a golf course before a tournament, get video footage of a property being sold, and scan a nearby lake for boating opportunities. All three operators accessed UAS Facility Maps and worked with a UAS Service Supplier (USS) to receive the proper approvals to conduct their flights. A fire erupted at one of the golf course clubhouses. First responders sent a helicopter to contain the fire. They submitted a request to a USS to create a UVR. The UVR information is also shared with the FAA. The FAA shares the information with public portals, notifying each of the UAS operators that the firefighting helicopter was on its way to their flying area.  Each of the UAS operators, being properly notified, were able to either land or continue their operations at a safe distance.

The FAA, in a press statement said: “The UPP was established in April 2017 as an important component for identifying the initial set of industry and FAA capabilities required to support UAS Traffic Management operations. The analysis of results from the demonstrations will provide an understanding of the level of investment required for each stakeholder’s implementation. The results from the UPP will provide a proof of concept for UAS Traffic Management capabilities currently in research and development, and will provide the basis for initial deployment of UTM capabilities. Ultimately, the FAA will define the UTM regulatory framework that third-party providers will operate within.”

Multiple partners

Several UAS Service Suppliers (USS) were selected to participate in the FAA demonstrations, with positive results reported at all three sites.

AirMap was among participants at MAAP, along with AiRSOX (part of GE Aviation), ANRA Technologies, and Wing to supply the UTM services at the core of the trials. MAAP’s UPP trials demonstrated drone flights in a variety of dynamic, real-world scenarios, including agricultural surveying, insurance inspections, and newsgathering. The scenarios introduced an intentionally diverse set of drones and drone operations into the same airspace to test their interactions. For example, one scenario involved various drone operations in the wake of a major storm, including an insurance company inspecting buildings for damage, a farm using a drone for a post-storm crop survey, and a delivery drone carrying relief supplies to the affected area. To ensure safety and deconfliction, it is critical that the different USS servicing these drone operations can communicate with each other.

The MAAP trials took place on Jun 13–21, 2019. The multi-day program resulted in 141 flights using five types of aircraft. For the trials, AirMap and the other USS each provided UTM services for participating drones, including flight planning and manned traffic alerts. At the same time, the four USS systems communicated with each other to share flight plans and ensure deconfliction, helping to provide a shared view of the airspace and improve overall safety and coordination.

AirXOS participated at all three test sites. The company was able to demonstrate full enterprise interoperability with other USSs and services across the three programs, helping to facilitate and coordinate the data exchange network required for safe flight operations. AiRXOS demonstrated additional capabilities, including:

  • Disseminating Unmanned Volume Reservations (UVRs) notifications to other USSs, demonstrating how information about low altitude emergency medical service helicopter flights could be distributed and acted upon by UAS operators.
  • Collecting data for the FAA regarding UAS and USS digital interactions for the FAA’s UTM system development.
  • Demonstrating the UPPs first connections to an FAA-operated UTM Flight Information Management System (FIMS) server.
  • Providing Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) services to other industry participants. AiRXOS is an approved FAA-LAANC supplier supporting both auto-approval and Future Coordination for Part 107 operation for UAS operators.

Meanwhile USS provider Anra Technologies supported the low altitude airspace management demonstrations at two sites: the MAAP facility and the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems in Las Vegas, NV. The tests included flying drones beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS), implementing dynamic restrictions and operating multiple drones within close proximity of each other.  This required the drones to share flight path information before and during its flight. It also required providing the drone pilots critical information such as weather and controlled airspace locations.  ANRA’s UTM platform DroneUSS provided that capability so the drone pilots could avoid operating in the same airspace as another drone, or avoid airspace that had a restriction such as a life-flight helicopter.

The FAA provided specific guidance for these demonstrations and ANRA worked alongside partners including Wing, AiRXOS, AirMap and Uber to develop, demonstrate, and provide decentralized and federated services that will support implementation of initial UTM operations. This enterprise service will support the sharing of intent and situational awareness information amongst participants.

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