July 30, 2020

Connected Places Catapult Project to Accelerate Drone Traffic Management in UK

The UK Department of Transport (DfT) commissioned a research project to create a framework for unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM); a safe growth path for the country’s growing commercial drone industry. Research by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests there will be more than 75,000 commercial drones in use in the UK by 2030, and predicts the sector could be worth £127bn globally.

The UTM project is being led by Connected Places Catapult (CPC), a partner organization to DfT that has been leading drone-related technical workshops since 2018 to support the development of an Open UTM framework.

“Open” UTM systems allow multiple participants to interoperate and exchange data to create a functional ecosystem for drone traffic management. The approach encourages the creation of services that allow commercial and recreational drone users to safely share the airspace with each other, and other aircraft.

Commercial drone operator

In May, Catapult formally opened a call for companies who could help advance the project to the next more practical stages. The project intends to develop, build and test the Open-Access UTM framework for drone operations below 400 ft altitude--generally considered “low altitude airspace.

The UK’s effort to develop an Open-Access UTM framework follows the decisions of Australia, France, Switzerland and the U.S. to embrace similar approaches. Unlike single-source, proprietary approaches that stifle innovation, these open frameworks are helping to attract developers to build a wide range of safe, easy-to-use tools that will help the drone industry grow.

Wing has long embraced the concept of an open ecosystem, where many organizations -- including Wing itself -- build tools to support drone operators. This made Wing a natural fit to join the Catapult project.

Reinaldo Negron, Wing’s head of UTM and co-president of the Global UTM Association, has been one of the leading global ambassadors for an open UTM approach.

Wing’s approach to UTM is informed by our experience as a commercial operator, which has taught us that a one-size fits all UTM model will not meet the increasingly diverse needs of the industry,” said Negron. “The future of air traffic management will require an open and scalable infrastructure that allows multiple providers to participate--this model has now been demonstrated successfully in Australia, Europe and the U.S.”.

In 2019, Wing supported the development of an open framework that was deployed with the Civilian Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), the government body that regulates Australian aviation safety. Earlier this year, Wing teamed up with French airspace authority DSNA and a host of partners to begin work on a similar framework in France.

As part of the UK project, Wing will develop the framework that will allow airspace authorities to digitally and automatically share data with drone operators through verified third party applications, known as UTM Service Providers (UTMSPs). UTMSPs will also be able to share data, as needed, with each other. Drone operators select the traffic management tools that best meet their specific needs for planning and conducting safe flights, and every UTMSP shares data as needed to allow drone operators to safely share the airspace. This framework will supports the rapid growth of applications like emergency response, drone delivery and advanced air mobility.

“We welcome the expertise that Wing will bring to our project team, who will together build and demonstrate a world leading Open-Access UTM ecosystem in the UK. The UK already has a vibrant and growing technology base as shown in previous project phases, and will be strengthened through international collaboration, giving UK companies access to new opportunities,” Mark Westwood, CTO Connected Places Catapult.