New Kid on the Block: Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management

The international marketplace for Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM)is expected to grow on the far side US$1.5 billion by 2025, driven by the growing use of UAVs in each the industrial and industrial sectors thereby ensuing risk of congestion within the skies. UAVs forecast to be the very vivacious growth sector of the international part business. This increasing use of unmanned systems is attributable to advances in technology and reductions in size, risks, and prices that remotely operated systems provide. With new industrial applications rising at speedy rates, industrial drones areforecast to witness large increase in sales and registration. Edge offered by drone to businesses embrace bigger potency of operations; reduced costs; ability to handle risky operations while not human involvements; ability to collect, retrieve and interpret knowledge with unmatched accuracy and speed and continues innovation in advanced capabilities and functionalities that support continuous growth of applications. Amongfew of the rising applications for industrial drone embrace use of drones for generating video tours for clienteles in real estate; drone-based surveillance; drones for environmental monitoring; drones for oil & gas pipeline inspections; agricultural drones for crop spraying; drone based mostly same-day delivery of e-commerce orders; drones for land measuring, search and rescue; drones for emergency response services; and drones for building and alternative infrastructure comes. Corona Virus a. k. a COVID-19 is poised to go down into history as the most Transmissive Infectious Disease known to the human race. As the disease continues to tear through geographic boundaries tearing countries, their healthcare systems & financial markets apart, a new futuristic technology is finding its magic. Alongside the outbreak, drones are being deployed to help with this contagious & hard to contain disease that needs minimal human-to-human interaction. Drones are helping by disinfecting cities; carrying medical & quarantine supplies; population monitoring for virus spread; policing for quarantine adherence; & communication with isolated patients. As drones power the efforts for disease containment, their use is growing bringing their safe operation into the spotlight and this is often where UTM steps in.

And this need has resulted in the authorities realizing that the current laws for civil operations of Drone in India had several missing links. Consequently, the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation (“MoCA”) introduced the Discussion Draft of the National Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management Policy framed by the UTM Committee constituted under the Ministry of Civil Aviation. This policy is drafted under the overarching framework of the Draft UAS Rules 2020 and in the unlikely event of any incongruence, the Draft UAS Rules 2020 shall prevail.The power to issue such rules are conferred upon the Central Government under Section Four, Five and Eight (2) of the Aircrafts Act, 1934.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs) have advanced technologically and surged exponentially over recent years in our Country. Currently, due to safety concerns, most civil operations of RPAshavebeen conducted in low-level uncontrolled area or in segregated controlled airspace. As the industry progresses, both operational and technological capabilities have matured to the point where UASs have expected to gain greater freedom of access to both controlled and uncontrolled airspace. Widespread technical and regulatory surveys have been conducted to enable the expanded operations. However, most surveys are derived from the perspective of UAS own operating mechanism and barely consider interactions of their non-segregated activities with the Air Traffic Management (ATM) system. Hence MOCA has asked stakeholders to give their feedback on the draft policy discussion draft would be revised after receiving public comments.

I think Introduction of the Draft Paper is undoubtedly a forward-looking step but could also be criticized for excessive compliances. On one hand, it proposes novel concepts that might certainly enhance the Indian Drone ecosystem, but on the opposite, it over regulates aspects that were exempted under the prevailing Guidelines. It is important to see how the development is being progressed across the Globe, I will give example of USA. Among countries developing UTM systems, the Federal Aviation Authority created its UTM Pilot Program (UPP) in April 2017 to define an initial set of industry and capabilities which are required to support UTM operations. The ultimate set of proficiencies will define services to be provided by FAA and by private-sector UAS service suppliers (USSs), their individual roles and responsibilities, information architecture, data-exchange protocols, software functions, and performance requirements for managing these low-altitude UAV operations without intervention by traffic control (ATC) facilities. In January 2019, three FAA UAS Test Sites were selected for tests and demonstrations in conjunction with NASA and other industry partners. UTM services demonstrated in UPP Phase One encompassed: (1) the exchange of flight intent among operators, (2) the generation of notifications to UAS Operators regarding air and ground activities, known as UAS Volume Reservations (UVRs), and (3) the ability to share UVRs with stakeholders, including other USS and the Flight Information Management System (FIMS). GoI/ MoCA has gone ahead with draft regulations without actually undergoing any of the above-mentioned steps. PODIUM may be a SESAR Horizon 2020 project supporting Unmanned space, the ecu vision for the safe, secure and efficient handling of drone traffic and a key enabler for the growing drone market to get economic and societal benefits. The acronym PODIUM (Proving Operations of Drones with Initial UTM) doesn’t exist in our regulations as we have not started the trials in a controlled environment. None of test sites have undertaken such a trial in India. A demonstrations enabled by the UTM managed by the U-space services, will allow procedures and technologies to be used “hands on” by drone operators, ATCOs and supervisors, and for many types of drone operations. MoCA has moved directly to regulations before establishing the process/ demonstration.

The Draft document fail to lay down the definition of ‘components’, which may include both hardware and software elements of a UAS. Further, the draft UAS Rules, 2020 released by DGCA envision the establishment of UTM in the Indian airspace, they do not provide any details or clarity regarding the proposed UTM. The DGCA can take the following lessons from the steps taken by the US and the EU regulators in how to design UTM systems in a safe, efficient, and acceptable manner:

  1. Detailed operational scenario planning.           The DGCA can, like the FAA, can use detailed distinct scenarios where multiple drone operations are taking place, to lay out the parameters to be followed during an operational and safety assessment. For any operational plans, a risk-based assessment method should be implemented. The scenariogiven in the Paper looks like just an introduction, they are without any scenario narrative, flight conditions, air space volume description etc.
  2. Lay the structure of the UTM framework like the EASA by identifying certain UTM services that are vital, such as geo-awareness, traffic information and data exchange, network identification, and drone flight authorization.
  3. Pilot projects and repeated testing. The DGCA needs to continually evolve UTM technology through pilot projects and repeated testing, like the FAA and the EU regulators. There has to be an actual flight from take off to mission to landing in an controlled environment before even thinking of a policy paper.
  4. Communication: The DGCA should speak to regulators such as the FAA and EASA from around the world to learn from their learnings regarding UTM systems and how to better integrate the lower airspace occupied by UAVs with the controlled airspace being used by manned aircraft. Issues of coordination amongst central and local authorities; how to ensure exchange of information amongst UTM service providers; or whether, and how, future providers of real time situational awareness information will exchange data are complex, and the DGCA may benefit from regular communication with other regulators.
  5. Institutionalize industry partnership so that there is a better understanding of how BVLOS operations will be conducted within the UTM framework by converging on strictures for drone registration, airspace authorization, identification of nearby drone operators for data exchange, sharing flight intent and monitoring compliance with it, and weather surveillance

A UTM Pilot Project should be ordered where certain providers have been selected to develop and demonstrate a traffic management system to safely integrate drone flights in low altitude airspace within the Indian airspace system before implementing any draft policy paper. This is a critical requirement for the future of elevated mobility.Each new development cycle is designed to mature the UTM architecture and services provided to ultimately support the full range of UAS operations - from remotely piloted aircraft to command-directed UAS and fully autonomous UAS.Stages of development is essentially to be based upon these three risks bearing metrics: (1) the total number of people and extent of property on the ground, (2) the number of manned aircraft near the UAS operations, and (3) the density of drone operations. It is anticipated that operational requirements on airspace users will increase commensurately with the complexity of the operations and the environment within which these operations are performed (e.g., the density of demand for access to a volume of airspace).Stakeholders should adopt applicable public and private sector standards related to data exchanges, operation protocols, and equipment performance where necessary in order to support the highly automated nature of the envisioned management system.

            The goal for initial UTM implementation/ draft paper should be to minimize deployment and development time by utilizing current industry-provided technologies and capabilities for operations capable of meeting appropriate performance standards for safety, security (cybersecurity, resilience, failure modes, redundancy), and efficiency while minimizing environmental effects and valuing privacy and safety of citizens.This spiral approach to UTM development in Indian will provide several advantages. First, by initially addressing lower complexity environments, where technological requirements and services should be the least stringent, implementation can be streamlined to these environments using current capabilities that meet performance standards and do not need a full-scale architecture. Second, developing UTM according to an environmental risk and complexity scale allows for scalable, flexible, adaptable services that are ‘right sized’ for the environment rather than one size fits all. UTM design must be able to adapt to new technologies and automation, both ground-based and airborne, and increasingly allow for more advanced forms of interaction with the UTM ecosystem, primarily through interoperable UAV systems capable of digital information and data exchange. Ultimately, UTM must encompass the range of UAS demand, business models, applications, and technologies, and sustenanceof safe and efficient operations that coexist with manned traffic andinflict as little interruption to the existing ATM system as possible while maintaining reasonable and equitable access to airspace.