“Only UTM can support the scalability of AAM operations”  – GUTMA’s Koen de Vos

The Global UTM Association (GUTMA)’s Harmonized Skies 2023 concluded at the start of December 2023 at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’headquarters in Montreal, Canada.  The conference brought together thought industry leaders, innovators, and regulators to deliberate on the critical themes and challenges shaping the UTM landscape. Unmanned Airspace talked to GUTMA Secretary General Koen De Vos about the event and what the year ahead has in store for the association

What are the key takeaways of the Harmonized Skies 2023 event for GUTMA?

GUTMA’s conference focused on a unique industry perspective that was also crucial for regulators. The discussions reflected the growing insights into the development and construction of the UTM system. There were three key takeaways from the conference.

First, the emphatic call to maintain momentum and swiftly open up markets. Waiting for flying passenger transport to commence operations is discouraged, as many valuable operations can only begin in the short term.

Second, the necessity for global harmonization, recognizing the use of global technologies and opportunities. Advocacy for global standards, even with varying regulations, is highlighted, particularly in areas of political divergence such as privacy and noise.

Finally, the demand for a strict application of an operation-centric approach to ensure safety requirements are proportionate to operational risks. Disproportionate rules are deemed threats to business opportunities in markets where competition already drives costs down.

In addition to these conclusions, the conference showcased the openness and willingness of participants to listen and learn from concrete expertise. A notable takeaway was the balanced gender mix in the panels, emphasizing GUTMA members’ employment of highly talented female collaborators.

How do you see the role of GUTMA developing over the next two years?

GUTMA is a unique platform to build the drone service ecosystem globally, involving all stakeholders in the drone and UTM industries, from big traditional aviation and tech companies to small IT companies, and including regulators. GUTMA should leverage this position to further engage with regulators and facilitate dialogue between the industry and regulators. This dialogue should focus on identifying remaining hurdles and developing concrete solutions, such as demonstrating how standards satisfy regulations, proposing an administrative layer for data exchange in a market context, or creating automated tools to facilitate certification.

This leading role should commence at the global level, contributing to ICAO activities, and expanding its representativity geographically and functionally, covering more members in various regions and representing all actors in the drone service ecosystem.

How do you see the global UTM sector evolving over the next 12 months?

In 2024, we anticipate more concrete steps towards the first automated BVLOS operations supported by UTM. Progress is evident in all regions, with a focus on BVLOS operations that create value without waiting for the most complex and risky ones. Examples include BVLOS operations over ports that are mature enough to transition into sustainable commercial operations. These initial “markets” may have limited scope but can quickly become beacons for other applications, leading to further market opening and scalable commercial operations.

Where are the biggest challenges to implementing commercial UTM systems: technical, regulatory, business-case, standards? Are key elements still missing?

Challenges in implementing commercial UTM systems lie in the detailed implementation of new technologies, rules, and standards – the devil is in the detail. While technologies, rules, and standards have been learned, building a compelling business case in the digital service provision realm remains a challenge. The key elements seem to be falling into place, but we do not have the certainty that all links in this production chain can be managed and their costs quantified. Concrete actions are essential to provide more certainty on these links.

Where do you see the most progress being made in UTM/U-space system implementation?

Drones and UTM signify the digitalization of aviation, and progress is expected where digital aviation aligns with an overall digitalization strategy. Progress can be seen in regions or areas where the main actors, both authorities and industry partners, actively pursue digitalization strategies, such as having a high degree of digital tools amongst authorities supporting the UTM system.

How has the emergence of the advanced air mobility sector impacted global UTM implementation programmes?

The emergence of advanced air mobility is closely tied to UTM implementation, especially with a broad definition of AAM. In an ICAO context, AAM is a broad concept where only UTM can support the scalability of operations. The integration of UTM in early stages to support commercial operations is crucial. This approach allows gaining expertise and strengthening the system for more complex and risky operations. Additionally, several operators will self-provide UTM services in integrated business models, emphasizing the need for sustainable businesses in the drone service market.


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