February 01, 2021

What is Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM)?

For decades, the aviation industry has relied on air traffic management (ATM) systems to keep the skies safe. These systems depend on people in air traffic control towers, voice communication, paper charts and manual processes. This system can safely manage thousands of manned flights at a time around the world. But what happens when we need a system capable of managing millions of drone flights, from medicine deliveries to hobbyists flying in their backyard?

The current ATM framework was not designed with drones in mind, and simply cannot scale in a safe, secure or cost-effective way. Safely integrating drones in our airspace will depend on a new framework and new technology that works alongside ATM. That emerging model is called Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM).

UTM is not one technology or set of regulations. Rather, it refers to the entire ecosystem that will enable drones to safely share the sky. UTM systems will not replace ATM, but will instead complement existing frameworks so that all types of aircraft -- both manned and unmanned -- are able to share information and safely coexist.

The foundation for UTM already exists today. An ecosystem of UAS Service Suppliers (USS) provide digital tools, known as “services”, to help drone operators plan and conduct safe flights. Wing, for example, has a USS called OpenSky. In Australia, Wing has made some OpenSky services freely available as an app, providing airspace and regulatory information to help drone operators identify where they can or can’t fly.

Workman using the OpenSky app to find where it is safe to fly his drone

Other services that USS may provide include:

  • Authorization services can help drone operators to digitally request authorization in controlled airspace.
  • Conflict detection services can help drone operators to plan their flights to avoid other aircraft.
  • Remote identification services can help drone operators to identify their aircraft to people on the ground, if required.

But one organization or company will not be able to support all drone operators. Instead, many USS will offer digital services to help many different kinds of drone operators. For example, a hobbyist flying in their backyard may not need all the features that support commercial drone flights. However, every USS will need to share data in real time so that all drone operators have the information they need to safely share the airspace. Together, these USS form a “network” to exchange this information. Click here to see more on how this UTM architecture works.

three devices displaying utm apps

Did you know? Industry and regulators have come together to develop open standards for UTM. Based on these standards, Wing with industry and governmental partners has developed open-source technology, called the InterUSS Platform, to help USS share information about drone operations when needed. The InterUSS Platform is a Linux Foundation project.

With millions of drones joining the skies, we are encouraged to see industry and government across the United States, Australia, Europe and the United Kingdom coming to alignment on an open and harmonized approach to drone integration.