The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced last week that it will be working with industry leaders and public stakeholders to develop a traffic management system for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones). UAS traffic management (UTM) requires a framework for systems to safely operate multiple UAS at once. The FAA wants to first establish operating rules before industry service providers and operators would coordinate the execution of flights.
For example, operators want to use smart-phone applications to map routes for drone flights and to check flight restrictions. The FAA has been working on UTM for drones since about 2015, when it first partnered with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
In November 2020, the FAA conducted flight tests through its UTM pilot program in Virginia and is working on an implementation plan based on that research. However, industry stakeholders have asked for more information on the next steps, and it is uncertain whether the FAA’s plan will include performance goals and measures (which is not statutorily required).
The FAA says it will use results from the pilot program to assist it in creating its implementation plan. However, the industry has voiced concern about the limited release of information related to UTM technology.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is recommending that the FAA: (1) provide stakeholders with additional information on the timing and substance of UTM testing and implementation efforts via the FAA’s UTM website or other appropriate means, and (2) develop performance goals and measures for its UTM implementation plan. The Department of Transportation agreed with those recommendations.
With more available data from the FAA’s research in its pilot program, members of the UAS industry and public stakeholders will be able to better align their own activities with those of the FAA and make better decisions for UTM testing and implementation.