Are we ready to manage heterogeneous aircraft in the low-altitude airspace?

Are we ready to manage heterogeneous aircraft in the low-altitude airspace?

The future foresees diverse types of low-altitude air vehicles which are manned and unmanned operating in non-segregated low altitude airspace. These may include remotely piloted aircraft, autonomous aircraft, helicopters, gliders, parachutes, drones, air-taxis, and more unknown types still to emerge. Therefore, the implementation of a traffic management system in the low altitude airspace is deemed crucial to ensure safe and efficient management of the heterogenous traffic. Is adoption of the current Air Traffic Management (ATM) system adequate to manage this traffic? Is the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM) system initiated and under development by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) adequate for the same purpose?

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has published a document called ‘Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM) – A Common Framework with Core Principles for Global Harmonization. This is a living document aiming to gather information on current and state-of the art solutions for UTM from various keys players such as UAS industry leaders, academics and aviation professionals through the DRONE ENABLE Symposium, to develop the UTM framework and core principles. The current edition discusses the following:

  • Type of services that can be provided in the UTM environment.
  • Gaps in the current ATM operational environment for UTM implementation, particularly at the boundaries between UTM and ATM systems.
  • Issues with regards to current ATM system requirements, regulations, and procedures which are not applicable to the UTM system.
  • Potential challenges to implement the UTM system including standards, policies, capabilities, and tools.

The current edition of the document does not propose any specific UTM system design or technical solutions to address the UTM challenges. It is envisioned that it will be addressed in the future editions.

A former study by Access Partnership’s Dr. Busyairah Syd Ali performs exploratory research to identify the distinctions between a manned and an unmanned flight operation and consequently the possible challenges to implement UTM with regards to the current ATM. A recent study by Dr. Busyairah Syd Ali identifies existing frameworks for UTM and assesses the frameworks using matrices that can potentially illustrate the possibility of practical implementation of the frameworks in the real world.

The research methodology adopted to conduct this study is a systematic approach, starting with the search for relevant papers, shortlisting, and finally preparing a review of the same. More than one hundred papers were screened for this review. The relevant papers were selected, and a detailed literature synthesis was conducted. Based on the literature synthesis, a review of existing UTM frameworks was enacted and assessment criteria were formed. The existing frameworks were then analysed using the developed criteria. The study can be found at here.

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