The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is highlighting progress it has made in partnership with NASA to lay the groundwork for an unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) traffic management system (UTM).
Recent demonstrations, conducted at three separate test sites selected by the FAA for the UAS Traffic Management Pilot Program (UPP), showed that multiple drone flights taking place beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) can be safely conducted at low altitudes (below 400 feet) in airspace where FAA air traffic services are not provided.
As demand for low-altitude drone use increases, the FAA, NASA and the UPP partners are working together to accommodate these operations safely and efficiently.
In January, the FAA selected three UPP test sites: the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) at Virginia Tech; the Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS) in Grand Forks, N.D.; and the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) in Las Vegas.
The first demonstration, which involved MAAP, took place at Virginia Tech on June 13.
During the demo, separate drone flights delivered packages, studied wildlife, surveyed a corn field and covered a court case for TV. Because the flights were near an airport, all four flight plans were submitted through a service supplier and received approval to launch as planned.
While these flights were being conducted, an emergency helicopter needed to quickly transport a car crash victim to a hospital. The helicopter pilot submitted a request for a UAS Volume Reservation (UVR), an alert used to notify nearby drone operators of the emergency. The deliveries were re-routed until the UVR was completed. The wildlife study, field survey and court coverage continued safely away from the helicopter’s path. Each operation was conducted without conflict, the FAA notes.
The second demonstration, which involved NPUASTS, took place in Grand Forks on July 10.
During the demo, which occurred near an airport, a photographer and Part 107 drone operator took photos of firefighter training. An aviation student at the University of North Dakota used a drone to scan for the best tailgating location. Another Part 107 operator, employed at an electric company, used a drone to assess power line damage after recent strong winds.
The two Part 107 operators submitted flight plans due to their proximity to an airport and received proper approvals. During their flights, they received a UVR alert that a medevac helicopter was transporting a patient to the hospital from the firefighter training area. The operator taking photos of the training landed the drone before the UVR notice became active. The power line survey and the flight over the tailgate area continued at a safe distance.
The third demo, which involved NIAS, took place in Las Vegas on Aug. 1.
For this operation, separate UAS flights were conducted to survey a golf course before a tournament, get video footage of a property being sold and scan a nearby lake for boating opportunities.
All three operators accessed UAS Facility Maps and worked with a UAS service supplier to receive the proper approvals to conduct their flights.
A fire erupted at one of the golf course clubhouses, and first responders sent a helicopter to contain the fire. They submitted a request to a USS to create a UVR, which is also shared with the FAA. The FAA shares the info with public portals, notifying each of the UAS operators that the firefighting helicopter was on its way to the flying area. Each of the drone operators, being properly notified, was able to either land or continue their operations at a safe distance.
The FAA’s video of the demos can be watched below:
The UPP was established in April 2017. The analysis of results from the latest demonstrations will provide an understanding of the level of investment required for each stakeholder’s implementation, says the FAA.
The results from the UPP will provide a proof of concept for UTM capabilities currently in research and development and will provide the basis for initial deployment of UTM, the agency adds.
Ultimately, the FAA will define the UTM regulatory framework that third-party providers will operate within.