Simon Johnson is the acting Secretary General of the Global UTM Association
What is GUTMA’s mission statement?
As the website says, GUTMA’s purpose is to foster the “safe, secure and efficient integration of drones in national airspace systems. Its mission is to support and accelerate the transparent implementation of globally interoperable UAS traffic management (UTM) systems.” It’s really all about accelerating the implementation of globally interoperable UTM services.
The main focus seems to be on global interoperability.
We are global, our members represent all stakeholders – which is really important – and we are neither a standards body nor a regulatory agency. We’re just trying to make sure that our members can voice an opinion on whatever regulations and standards are developed. We strongly believe in using open-source software, having application programme interfaces, because the trend is not to have one system fitting-all but multiple, competitive approaches. If you do that then by definition the systems have to be interoperable and that’s much easier to do if you use industry standards and open-source software models.
Has GUTMA voiced its view on the UTM/U-Space proposals from FAA and EASA?
Yes. We made a whole bunch of comments on the EASA rules for UTM services – comments from our members but also the common view of the Association. But we have also collaborated on developing standards, for example, with remote ID which is very important now with the FAA. We have a memorandum of understanding with ASTM International. We are looking at working with different organisations to make drone registries interoperable – so information is transferrable from one nation’s drone registry with another.
Are these comments in the public domain?
Yes. They are available on our website, which is available for anybody to access. We would like to be in a position so that when people say: “what does GUTMA think about this?” or, “what is GUTMA doing about that?” we are seen as the knowledge repository on all things related to UTM, U-Space and how you make these networks interoperable for the benefit of the industry.
What is your response to the EASA draft U-Space regulation and especially article 5.5 which relates to the opening up of competition for U-Space services in Europe?
We are in favour of an open market and having common rules across all member states. In general, our comments are about making sure we define properly what the U-Space services are and what is the purpose of each service. We have provided descriptions of these. I think this is important. We are also recommending some other services which we feel are missing from the draft opinion.
Have you made similar comments to the FAA?
We decided that we are not going to make comments – this is just because we temporarily lack resources. We know our members are very active in this area and some of our members, such as DJI, have already made strong comments. We are looking at this closely. I think the key message is that we’re having the debate about the right way of doing it – what’s the right approach, is it broadcast-ID based, it is a network solution, how should it be monetised? It’s very constructive and I think we’re all learning how to digest these comments. I know there are thousands of responses and – with maybe some help from machine learning – FAA will extract the most relevant, the most important and identify the critical issues and best compromises.
What’s the significance of the GUTMA Connected Skies event during MWC Barcelona 2020?
The mobile telecommunication and unmanned aviation industries are complimentary but operate and think differently – we need to understand what those differences are and how to create an interface between the two approaches. The use of bandwidth, for example, is very interesting. On one side it’s about making money transmitting data and finding ways to transmit as many bits per megahertz as you can. For the aviation industry it’s more about safety and security. You want to make sure your communications are reliable so aircraft can avoid obstacles and each other.
Most drones are collecting and transmitting big data. In manned aviation we have put in place systems to ensure aircraft can’t be hijacked and in the drone industry we will need to make sure data and systems can’t be hacked. So, it’s important to understand how the mobile network community handles this. The cellular phone network could also be used as part of the infrastructure for providing supplemental data services like local weather to the drone operator or information can be stored and processed at the edge (i.e. leveraging existing cell tower equipment) rather than backhauling it to a mainframe or the cloud. There are many interesting discussions about these technologies – what infrastructure each party can provide and how we should collaborate. In Barcelona, we will put on stage those who’ve actually done it and gone from proof-of-concept to proof-of-value. We are bringing together the doers with those who are thinking about and investing in it. We all need to understand the opportunities and challenges to reap the benefits.
We also need to talk about 5G. We want to understand what we can do today with 3/4G and what 5G will bring, because that is not clear. We hear a lot of buzzwords, but we need to have the experts on stage to explain why we might need 5G, what it will enable in the future, what we can’t do today and what the killer applications will be. We’re inviting participants from Asia because we feel that their market is maybe a little more bullish than elsewhere in this domain and we will be very interested to see what they’ve tested and what they’re planning.
In terms of the business case for UTM is there now a clear income stream for your members?
UTM comprises not just the unmanned traffic market. You could almost argue that UTM is going to be merged within ATM so we talk about “U” standing for “Unified” traffic management. That’s going to happen eventually, but the questions are: how it’s going to happen, who is going to be providing these unified traffic management services and how will they be paid for – because there will be a cost associated with them? Some people say it should be like a road network – it should be a public service with the users paying for it via a road tax. The other approach is to say: “I’m going to make money from providing a drone service and I need to have a UTM system to do that.” Zipline is going to present in Barcelona and if it doesn’t have an integrated UTM system it can’t operate and generate revenue. In this case you could argue it’s a cost centre, with the profit centre focused on delivering blood and saving money for the Rwandan government.
Amazon started by selling books online but now you can buy its web services. It still sells books but it turned out that the company could sell computing power and make more money that way. People are going to invest initially in UTM and then either they’ll decide to keep with their own system or buy from a third party. It’s going to be a make or buy decision.
But it’s still early days and I think it’s going to depend in which part of the world you are in. EASA’s view of U-space airspace is that in some U-Space airspace areas there may be only one provider while in others there will be competing service providers. This will be a policy decision, which will differ from country to country. Then, just like mobile phones, you connect the operators to each other and contract for different bundles of services.
The other trend is I think you’re going to see the pure UTM providers providing value-added services which are more to do with security than with safety, providing drone detection and other drone services, where an airport or sensitive site would be pay for “a virtual radar” service.
This is what seems to be missing from the FAA and EASA visions is a non-cooperative surveillance system for drones. Can this be addressed currently?
Yes. I think that’s where the mobile phone operators are going to be potential partners because they have equipment on their towers which can be used to detect anything in flight. There are radar manufacturers who can also detect drones. Imagine if all sensitive sites had one of these radars and you fed that information into your UTM service provider network – then the people who wanted that information would pay for it. You’re an airport. How much do you think you’d pay to know if that object is a bird or a drone? A UTM service provider would know exactly what it is, where it is, where it took off from, where it landed and would be able to track the flight in real time. Will the airport pay for the equipment itself or would it buy a service from a UTM service provider because it provides added information?
UTM then becomes the source of all these services that will allow you to choose from a menu, which might include a view of all drone traffic – collaborative and non-collaborative – and a weather advisory service which will be mandatory for some operations such as beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) where you’re going to have to prove that you are flying in weather conditions compatible with your equipment.
And the data you use – how can you be sure about its veracity? That’s when you might need a trusted UTM service provider with guaranteed levels of service and data integrity.
We also need competition, interoperability and collaboration. If your UTM service provider has an outage – such as not being able to provide the weather information you need for your operations – then it should be possible for a collaborating competitor to provide this data. Such redundancy is done in the mobile phone industry with emergency numbers which have to be made accessible at all time to end users by law. Similar agreements will happen with UTM.
I think what is important for GUTMA is sticking to its vision and mission, so its members know that when you join the Association you accept this idea of having interoperable services that are coopeting.
How will GUTMA evolve over the next few years?
GUTMA needs to be clearer with its strategy and deliverables. It’s something we’re working on – but the good news is that we are now recognised as THE Global Association. Boeing has just joined and it’s not always common to have Boeing and Airbus in the same association. But we have a policy of one member one vote, so the big players cannot dominate the Association.
We need to integrate more incumbent stakeholders and new actors. We have Uber, we have Wing, we have UTM suppliers that did not exist five years ago, and we are collaborating with GSMA; we didn’t want to force GMSA members to become GUTMA members simply to be able to participate in a working group. And that’s why we have a collaboration agreement and joint activities, the first of which is the “aerial connectivity” working group to investigate all of the things we’ve discussed and make comments to draft regulations and proposed standards, produce white/position papers, and make presentations at trade conferences. There’s a whole list of deliverables that we will make public.
It’s important to get the right people around the table to discuss these issues, reach consensus and then disseminate solutions that they are adopted, implemented and improved. And I think that’s the key point about GUTMA going global – there are several different working groups now and we need to make sure their outputs are relevant, valuable and can be shared in a timely manner. We’re taking one step at a time, taking an incremental approach. We don’t need to go blue sky. Yet.