FAA, NASA Finish Second Phase of Drone Project

The Federal Aviation Administration and NASA recently concluded the second phase of its unmanned aircraft system traffic management or UTM Pilot Program.

[Above photo via the FAA.]

That program provided a proof of concept for a UTM ecosystem for uncontrolled operations that is separate from, but complementary to, the FAA’s Air Traffic Management system – serving as the basis for policy considerations, standards development and the implementation of a UTM system.

The agency said its second phase included virtual demonstrations in partnership with NASA and two drone test sites: the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and the New York UAS Test Site.

“These demonstrations will help move us closer to safe beyond-visual-line-of-sight drone operations,” noted Pamela Whitley, the FAA’s acting assistant administrator for NextGen, in a statement. “Flight testing UTM capabilities in high-density airspace will help us develop policy for safely and efficiently integrating drones into our national airspace while benefiting and serving communities.”

The demonstrations highlighted UTM capabilities that will support beyond-visual-line-of-sight or BVLOS operations:

  • A UTM Flight Information Management System prototype and infrastructure, which gives the FAA access to information from industry and other stakeholders.
  • New technologies and data to validate the latest international standards for remote identification and support authorized users with specific operator data.
  • In-flight separation from other drones or manned aircraft in high-density airspace to validate recently proposed international UTM standards to help drones avoid each other.
  • Unmanned Aerial System or UAS volume reservations to notify drone operators of emergencies and make sure other UTM capabilities work properly in these scenarios.
  • Secure information exchanges between the FAA, industry and authorized users to ensure data integrity.

The FAA noted it has worked closely with NASA and other entities since 2017 to identify the initial set of capabilities needed to support small drone operations and advance UTM. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 extended the objectives of the program to enable safe BVLOS drone operations.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation is moving forward with a new and broader drone research initiative dubbed the BEYOND program that will build upon the agency’s three-year Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program that wrapped up on Oct. 25.

The USDOT said eight of the nine state, local, and tribal governments that participated in its UAS pilot program signed new agreements with the FAA to continue tackling drone integration challenges as part of the BEYOND initiative.

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