5 Steps to Improve Your Drone Pre-Flight Checklist

drone pre-flight checklist

Checking your drone before flight is a standard practice. Many drone operators have an established routine that often includes recharging the battery and controller, updating the firmware, recalibrating the compass, assessing the propellers, and confirming GPS connectivity.

But situation awareness is also critical for safe flight. In low altitude airspace, conditions can shift rapidly and unpredictably, so it’s important to minimize risks by evaluating local conditions in the air and on the ground.

We recommend adding the following steps to your drone pre-flight checklist to up-level your situational awareness and make safer flight decisions.
 

1. Understand microweather conditions

As many operators can attest, weather conditions such as wind, temperature, and precipitation can have a major impact on drone hardware and overall success of the flight. The challenge is traditional weather sources often take 20 minutes to update and provide high-level data over a wide 2,000- to 4,000-meter radius.

Microweather data on the other hand is far more localized with updates every 60 seconds and details within a 500-meter radius, including precipitation, temperature, wind, cloud cover, visibility, and more.

Our free SkyGrid Flight Control app provides this hyper-local weather data to help drone operators ensure they’re flying in optimal conditions based on the current temperature, cloud base, dew point, etc. This level of detail can also help avoid situations where rain or wind speeds unexpectedly increase during flight and damage the aircraft.

Drone weather

2. Evaluate roadway traffic

Unless flying in a remote location, it’s also important to add roadway traffic to your drone pre-flight checklist. This data can help operators avoid flying over congested areas that may pose a risk to vehicles and people on the ground.

Within SkyGrid Flight Control, the traffic layer can be turned on to see light vs. moderate vs. heavy traffic. High roadway traffic can be also be an indication of high pedestrian traffic. Operators can use this data to schedule their flights when the least amount of traffic is expected.

roadway traffic for drones

3. Assess the elevation

Checking the local elevation can also be beneficial for your drone pre-flight checklist. By identifying how elevation fluctuates in your area, operators can safely fly over varying terrain and maintain the desired altitude above ground level.

For example, you may need to fly under 100-feet altitude for missions that require high resolution imagery, such as a site inspection or search and rescue operation. Detailed elevation data can help you maintain this altitude as the ground level shifts throughout the flight.

The elevation layer in SkyGrid Flight Control shows the highest elevation points above ground level, which makes it easy to set optimal altitudes during the flight planning process.

drone elevation data

4. Check for local fires

Unfortunately, wildfires in the western region of the United States are becoming more frequent. This poses a couple different risks for drone operators. For starters, the heat and lack of visibility can lead to aircraft damage. But more importantly, your drone could interrupt the efforts of firefighters.

If a drone flies near a wildfire, fire response teams are often forced to ground their aircraft to avoid the potential of a midair collision. This could delay the airborne response to the fire and create a larger threat to people and property in the area. Unless involved in the firefighting operation, drone pilots should avoid flying near wildfires at all costs.

Drone operators can also check the local fire index to see what the wildfire risk is in their local area. The fire index layer in SkyGrid Flight Control app indicates the highest risk in red and the lowest risk in yellow. Operators should be extra cautious in areas with a high risk.

drone pre-flight checklist

5. Evaluate airspace classes & advisories

Hopefully this step is already part of your drone pre-flight checklist, but if not, it’s a critical one! Before taking flight, drone operators should check the airspace classes and altitude ceilings in their area. If flying in U.S. controlled airspace (Class A, B, C, D or E), flight authorization is required.

The airspace map in SkyGrid Flight Control identifies each airspace class and displays the pre-approved ceilings where LAANC is available for auto-approval. But no matter if you’re flying in controlled airspace or not, it’s always important to check for drone flight restrictions in your area. These FAA restrictions are often issued around military bases and high-security events. Operators who violate these flight restrictions may be subject to civil penalties and criminal charges.

SkyGrid Flight Control shows both part-time and full-time National Security UAS Flight Restrictions (NSUFRs). See example of UAS flight restrictions shown in red below.

drone pre-flight checklist restrictions
Detailed, up-to-date data is critical to minimize flight risks, especially when you consider how quicky conditions can change in low-altitude airspace. Our free SkyGrid Flight Control makes it easy to improve your situational awareness with advanced airspace, regulatory, and location data.
 

Download SkyGrid Flight Control today to start adding these steps to your drone pre-flight checklist.

Drone Automation Made Easy for Commercial Pilots

drone pipeline inspection

Drones are disrupting a wide variety of industries and innovating outdated business models. Just in the last few months, drones delivered test kits and disinfected outdoor surfaces to help fight COVID-19. They assessed hurricane damage and delivered aid to the most devastated areas. And they inspected pipelines to prevent leaks in the oil and gas industry.

But as an organization’s fleet grows, it’s not feasible to manually execute every flight that’s delivering a package, conducting an inspection, or responding to an emergency. Drone automation is critical to safely scale operations and enable more advanced missions.

At SkyGrid, we’re solving this challenge with a smarter drone solution that automates every phase of flight. Our free SkyGrid Flight Control app makes it easy to generate flight plans, get auto-approval to fly, and autonomously execute the mission.

Check out a quick overview of our drone automation capabilities and read on for more details.


 

How does SkyGrid automate drone operations?

In our last post about drone flight planning, we explored how SkyGrid Flight Control enables operators to automatically generate mission plans based on their flight parameters, such as the start and end time, altitude, speed, and distance between sweeps. Once the mission plan is finalized, our app also allows operators to autonomously launch their drone, perform the pre-defined flight plan, and get real-time insights.

More specifically, operators can take the follow actions during flight:

  • Autonomously execute single and multi-objective missions.
  • Monitor your drone’s real-time camera feed.
  • Leverage AI computer vision to automatically detect objects and act on the information in real-time.
  • View real-time mission progress as you execute a flight plan.
  • Pause and resume your mission.
  • Take photos and videos during flight.
  • View native control functions, like camera settings, speed, heading and more.

For example, first responders can monitor the live feed to identify a lost or missing person during a search and rescue operation. As the drone autonomously surveils the defined area, our AI computer vision will help detect the missing person in real-time, enabling first responders to quickly identify the coordinates and evaluate conditions for ground accessibility.

Operators also have the option to manually take control of the flight at any point in time during an automated mission. For example, during a perimeter surveillance mission, an operator may identify an object of interest in the live video feed and take control to inspect the object more closely.

The example below shows the live video feed during flight. With object detection turned on, pilots can automatically identify objects, such as vehicles, people, and animals, in real-time.

drone automation

What drone automation features are available for enterprises?

For enterprise customers, we can optimize flight planning and execution with artificial intelligence. Our AI algorithms can analyze crucial data, such as airspace traffic, weather forecasts, roadway traffic, and vehicle performance, to automatically generate optimal flight plans and autonomously adapt flights as conditions change. For extra safeguard measures, operators have the ability to approve the new flight plan before execution.

This approach can help solve the scalability issues enterprises are up against today. It removes the burden on drone operators to manually monitor weather changes, avoid buildings and infrastructure, navigate around roadway traffic, and comply with shifting regulatory dynamics. AI technology can more reliably analyze complex data layers to uncover hidden trends and adapt flights in the rapidly changing airspace.
 

Why use SkyGrid for drone automation?

Ultimately, we simplify drone operations with more automation in one end-to-end application. Rather than using several different apps to find up-to-date weather and environmental information, get LAANC approval, plan flights, and execute missions, SkyGrid Flight Control provides a complete solution to automate flight authorization, planning, and execution. We do the heavy lifting so operators can focus on overseeing the success of the mission.

We’re excited about the new features and functionality we have coming down the pipeline to further automate drone operations. Stay tuned for more updates!
 

Download SkyGrid Flight Control for free in the iPad App Store or learn more about our advanced enterprise features.

Automate Drone Flight Planning with SkyGrid Flight Control

No matter your mission, whether to inspect a pipeline, respond to an emergency, or secure a perimeter, the drone flight planning process shouldn’t be so complex. The burden typically falls on drone operators to manually plan and execute their flights, but it’s often a laborious, time-consuming process.

At SkyGrid, we’re simplifying this process with more automation and efficiency.

Our free SkyGrid Flight Control app provides a complete solution to check airspace, get LAANC, automate flights, and detect objects in real-time. We eliminate the manual workflows by automating drone flight planning and autonomously executing the mission.

Get the scoop from our product team and read on for more details.


 

What kind of missions can drone operators plan?

SkyGrid Flight Control automatically generates mission plans based on the drone operator’s flight parameters, such as start and end time, desired speed, altitude, and location. The different types of missions operators can choose from include:

Area Exploration Missions

Our area exploration capabilities enable drone operators to automatically generate sweep missions to surveil a defined area. Operators can specify the altitude they want to fly, the mission speed, and the distance between sweeps based on their objectives. For example, an operator conducting a search and rescue mission may opt for 30-foot sweeps to ensure no area is left unchecked, while an operator surveilling a construction site may select 100-foot sweeps to get a high-level view of construction progress.

drone sweep mission

Path Missions

Our path missions enable drone pilots to generate routes that follow a set of sequential waypoints. This approach could be useful for a wide variety of missions across public safety, inspections, security, and more. For example, operators can generate a path mission to inspect oil and gas pipelines, monitor swimmers along a beach shoreline, or surveil a perimeter around a high-security building.

During drone flight planning, operators can choose to have the drone auto-land at the end of the path or return home after the mission is complete.

drone waypoint mission

Multi-Objective Missions

Drone operators can also create more complex mission plans with multiple objectives. For example, in the event of a traffic incident, law enforcement agencies could generate a path mission to the incident and combine it with an area exploration mission to gather situational awareness before emergency teams arrive.

drone flight planning

Free Flight Missions

Our app also offers free flight capabilities, enabling operators to create flight boundaries where they can freely operate their drone. This could be beneficial for recreational drone pilots, as it allows pilots to get LAANC in controlled airspace without requiring a flight plan.

Free flight missions can also benefit commercial operators, especially when the area is less defined. For example, in response to a natural disaster, emergency responders can set up a free flight mission around a neighborhood to detect people, vehicles, or animals in destress with our AI computer vision. The free flight capabilities allow them to hone in on the most damaged areas within the neighborhood in real time.

drone flight boundaries

Object-Centric Missions

For enterprise customers, we also offer object-centric missions to automatically generate flight plans around vertical assets and structures, such as bridges, towers, and refineries. This capability can help simplify infrastructure and utility inspections. Based on the mission objectives, our AI computer vision models can also be trained to detect defects, recognize parts, and more.
 

Why use SkyGrid for drone flight planning?

Bottom line: we do the heavy lifting in the flight planning process. Based on your mission objectives, SkyGrid Flight Control will automatically generate a flight plan and autonomously execute the mission. Once a flight plan has been saved, operators can repeat the mission as often as needed. This simplifies routine inspections and surveillance missions that are conducted on a regular basis.

And with LAANC integrated directly in the drone flight planning process, we make compliance easy. We check all flight details to inform the operator if they’re eligible for auto-approval or if modifications are required to comply with LAANC. We also alert users of nearby stadiums, infrastructure, and other factors that may violate the Part 107 rules.
 

Download SkyGrid Flight Control for free in the iPad App Store or learn more about our advanced enterprise features.

New LAANC Capabilities Simplify Flight Authorization & Compliance

SkyGrid LAANC

Over the last three years, the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) has become an important tool to automate drone flight authorization in U.S. controlled airspace under 400 feet. LAANC authorization essentially eliminated the manual approval process that previously took up to three months.

As an FAA-approved UAS Service Supplier of LAANC, SkyGrid provides commercial (Part 107 Auto-Approval and Part 107 Further Coordination) and recreational (Section 44809) LAANC authorizations.

Check out a quick overview of our LAANC services and read on for more details:


 

What’s included in SkyGrid’s LAANC services?

Now available through our free SkyGrid Flight Control application, our LAANC services enable drone operators to:

  • Receive real-time LAANC authorizations for Part 107 commercial and recreational drone operations under 400 feet in U.S. controlled airspace.
  • Request further coordination to fly above the designated altitude ceiling in a UAS Facility Map, up to 400 feet. These requests can be submitted up to 90 days in advance, and the approval is coordinated manually through the FAA.
  • Access UAS Facility Maps that show pre-approved ceilings in controlled airspace and specify if further coordination is available. See example of the airspace ceilings below:

UAS facility maps

  • View airspace schedules to check specific times when LAANC authorization may or may not be required.
  • View Special Use Airspace data, airports and airspace classes, Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) and Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs).
  • Check for both part-time and full-time National Security UAS Flight Restrictions (NSUFRs). See example of UAS flight restrictions shown in red below:

UAS flight restrictions

What’s new with LAANC?

The FAA just added 133 new areas of U.S. controlled airspace for LAANC authorization. That means drone operators can now use SkyGrid Flight Control to get automated flight approval at 537 air traffic facilities and 726 airports.

Through SkyGrid’s latest LAANC certification with the FAA, drone pilots can also get authorized in areas that span up to 10 nautical miles. LAANC authorization has also been enabled during civil twilight hours, provided the drone has anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles. This provides more flying time that’s not strictly limited to daylight hours.
 

Why use SkyGrid’s LAANC services?

We provide more than just an airspace map and LAANC authorization. Our SkyGrid Flight Control app simplifies compliance by integrating LAANC directly into the flight planning workflow. That means drone operators can seamlessly plan their mission, ensure their flight meets all LAANC criteria, and get auto-approval to fly.

As you can see below, LAANC is not required for the mission plan on the left, and LAANC is required for the mission plan on the right and auto-approval is available.

LAANC authorization

Rather than planning a mission after LAANC authorization, this approach provides more assurances that all requirements are checked before you take flight.

Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to roll our new LAANC features and functionality!
 

Download SkyGrid Flight Control for free in the iPad App Store or learn more about our advanced enterprise features.

Your Go-To Airspace Map for Safe Drone Operations

drone weather

At SkyGrid, we recognize how important it is to access detailed, up-to-date airspace intelligence before taking flight. That’s why we’re providing the most robust airspace map to help drone operators ensure every mission is safe and successful.

Our free, SkyGrid Flight Control app provides a complete solution to check airspace, get LAANC, automate flights, and detect objects in real-time. At the center of this app is our airspace map with detailed airspace, regulatory, and location data.

Check out the quick overview from our team and read on for more details:
 

 

Airspace & Weather Intelligence

Our airspace intelligence includes advanced weather data, such as precipitation, temperature, wind speed and direction, cloud cover, visibility, and more.

The hyper-local weather data is updated every 60 seconds and detailed to the 500-meter radius, compared to traditional weather sources that can take up to 20 minutes to update and only provide a 2,000- to 4,000-meter radius. When you consider how quickly weather patterns can change, more detailed, near-real-time data becomes critical to minimize risks in the airspace, especially when flying smaller drones that are less resilient in harsh weather conditions.

As shown below, pilots can select a tile on our airspace map for an overview of the hyper-local weather details. Pilots can also check for drone air traffic from the SkyGrid system.

Drone airspace map with weather

Regulatory Data & Advisories

Our regulatory data includes airspace classes and advisories from the FAA, such as UAS flight restrictions. We also display the FAA’s UAS Facility Maps that show the pre-approved ceilings in controlled airspace where LAANC is available for auto-approval. This information allows a user to plan flights that can be approved in near near-time, rather than waiting for the plan to be manually reviewed.

For example, the area in purple shows Class C airspace where auto-approval is available up to the pre-approved altitude displayed in the grid, and the area in red indicates a National Security UAS Flight Restriction issued by the FAA.

airspace map with drone flight restrictions

Location Insights with Ground Intelligence

Our location insights include local buildings, obstacles, population density, elevation, and roadway traffic.

The elevation layer is mapped to 0.1-meter height increments, providing the vertical precision necessary to safely route drones over areas with varying elevations. The numbers displayed on our airspace map represent the highest ground elevation in each area to simplify the flight planning process.

drone airspace map with elevation data

Our airspace map also displays roadway traffic to help drone operators avoid flying over congested areas that may pose a risk to vehicles and people on the ground. As you’d expect, the green roads represent light traffic whereas the red roads represent heavy traffic. Operators can use this tool to understand what time of the day has the least amount of traffic and schedule their missions accordingly.

drone map with roadway traffic

Drone pilots also have the option to evaluate the airspace map with a satellite view or in 3D, making it easier to plan inspections and other object-centric flights. When reviewing their mission plan, different point of views also help drone pilots ensure there are no buildings or infrastructures too close to the flight path.

drone airspace map

For enterprises, SkyGrid also offers advanced data layers based on the unique needs of the mission. These data layers can include manned air traffic, foot traffic, radar-detected objects, and other data layers customized to the specific enterprise. To further simplify drone operations, enterprises can also leverage our AI technology to automatically plan, execute, and adapt flights as conditions change.

We know navigating low-altitude airspace is complex, but we aim to make it simple, safe, and secure.
 

Download SkyGrid Flight Control for free in the iPad App Store or learn more about our advanced enterprise features.

SkyGrid Flight Control: An All-in-One Drone App

SkyGrid

In case you missed it, SkyGrid just launched the first all-in-one drone app. What does that mean exactly? It means pilots can manage their entire drone workflow from airspace exploration and authorization… to flight planning and execution… to real-time insights… all within SkyGrid Flight Control™.

Free drone app

We recognized the challenge many drone operators are facing today by using several different tools to check airspace, get LAANC, plan flights, and safely execute them. It’s a cumbersome process that requires too many manual workflows and can lead to disconnected information as you switch between different applications.

We set out to solve this challenge by automating every phase of flight in one drone app. SkyGrid Flight Control automates flight authorization, planning, and execution to radically simplify your operations.

And we’re the only drone app built on artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies. Our AI computer vision enables real-time object detection while our patented blockchain system provides enhanced data privacy of all pilot, flight, and drone data stored within the app.

Learn more about the app experience in our latest video:

We’ll have more insights to share from our product experts in the coming weeks so stay tuned!

In the meantime, you can get started today by downloading SkyGrid Flight Control for free in the iPad App Store. You can also check out our advanced enterprise features, such as geofencing, custom object detection, and multi-drone missions, for more complex drone operations.

Happy flying!

Ali

Blockchain: The Digital Black Box in Unmanned Aviation

blockchain in unmanned aviation

Our airspace, historically dominated by commercial aircraft and helicopters, is now being shared with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of all shapes and sizes at a growing rate. In fact, the volume of drones is already outpacing manned aircraft. According to the FAA, there are nearly four times as many registered drones as manned aircraft.

In the near future, we’ll also see unmanned vehicles carrying passengers and cargo take flight. NASA projects the number of unmanned flights per year will reach 500 million for package delivery services and 750 million for passenger transportation by 2030.

However, there are a couple key challenges that must be addressed to keep our skies safe and provide drone operators with equitable airspace access, particularly in high-risk areas near airports and urban environments.

  1. Flight transparency: For starters, real-time awareness of all current and planned unmanned flights is critical to ensure airspace safety. This requires drone operators to share a detailed record of their intended flight paths, position tracks, flight status, and any route changes during flight. These details must be accurate and up to date to optimize the airspace and pre-empt unnecessary deconfliction with other aircraft. However, this process becomes increasingly difficult as businesses autonomously operate a larger volume of drones to deliver packages, surveil pipelines, monitor crops, and more.
  2. Flight auditability: In the wake of an incident, aviation authorities also need access to historical flight data to determine the sequence of events and hold operators accountable. However, they need assurances the flight logs haven’t been tampered with by the drone operator or a third party. This requires the industry to ensure the security and integrity of data exchanged between drone operators, authorities, and service suppliers.

In manned aviation, these challenges are addressed by using long-range radars to monitor aircraft in-flight and black boxes to audit flight data following an incident. An airplane’s black box refers to its flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR), typically stored near the tail of an aircraft. The FDR records key parameters such as time, altitude, and airspeed, while the CVR records the pilot’s voice, radio transmissions, and engine noises.

So what’s the solution in unmanned aviation? It’s evident a new approach is required to ensure the traceability and accountability of drones, especially given the volume of unmanned aircraft taking flight. The answer is a tamper-proof “digital black box” powered by blockchain technology.

What is blockchain technology?

In technical terms, blockchain is a distributed ledger of immutable records stored in a decentralized database. Although it sounds complex, this technology can simplify the process of sharing accurate, up-to-date flight data with authorities by assigning a unique ID to every unmanned aircraft and maintaining a real-time record of each drone’s status, flight details (e.g., altitude, coordinates), operator, and maintenance history.

This approach enables a common operating picture recorded securely, accurately, and permanently on a digital ledger. In a blockchain, each flight log is linked to the previous log with cryptography so they can’t be altered retroactively. That means authorities can analyze flight data in the wake of an incident and hold operators accountable with certainty the data hasn’t been tampered with.

The use of private keys ensures only authorized parties have access to confidential data, such as flight plans, operator details, and payload information. This gives businesses assurances their operational data won’t be accessed or intercepted by a malicious actor.

Ultimately, blockchain technology can replace the traditional black box to enable a more advanced, digital approach in unmanned aviation. Augmented with smart contracts, blockchain also has the ability to automate compliance with the airspace rules and help ensure every drone is safe to fly.

Learn more about blockchain and the impact it can have on unmanned aviation in our latest whitepaper.
 

Commercial Drone Operations: Automating the Manual Workflows

Commercial drone operations

Across every industry, commercial drone operations are creating new opportunities for enterprises, SMBs, and nonprofits to innovate their business models. Drones are optimizing last-mile deliveries, transporting urgent medical supplies, inspecting oil pipelines, and improving search and rescue efforts. In many cases, drone technology has proven to be a more efficient, cost-effective solution, filling the gaps where traditional ways of doing business have fallen short.

It’s fair to say there are many benefits to launching a commercial drone operation, but where do you begin? The process can feel daunting, and understandably so. Businesses have several responsibilities to ensure their operation is safe, secure, and compliant. To name a few…

  • Regulatory compliance: Commercial operators in the U.S. are required to obtain a remote pilot certificate, register their drones, and receive airspace authorization. During flight, they’re also expected to comply with Part 107 regulations unless a waiver has been approved for more advanced operations, such as flying beyond visual line of sight, at night, or over people.
  • Flight operations: Commercial operators are expected to plan and execute their flights and share operational data with the UAS traffic management (UTM) ecosystem. Accurate, up-to-date flight plans are required to optimize the airspace and avoid unnecessary deconfliction.
  • Aircraft deconfliction: Operators are responsible for staying on top of changes in the airspace and adapting their flights accordingly. This requires operators to monitor airspace traffic, regulatory dynamics, and local conditions, such as weather, terrain, buildings, and risks on the ground.
  • Aircraft security: Businesses are responsible for protecting their commercial drone operation from both intentional acts (e.g., cyberthreats) and unintentional acts (e.g., human error, hardware malfunction), affecting people or property in the air or on the ground. This requires operators to continuously monitor their aircraft performance and detect any malicious activity.
  • Contingency management: In the event of a contingency, operators are responsible for notifying authorities and affected operators of the new flight plan and emergency status until the hazard is no longer a risk. Contingencies include an active flight that is undergoing a critical equipment failure, experiencing a loss of tracking capabilities, or operating outside the bounds of their intended flight path. In case an incident occurs, commercial drone operators also need to maintain high standards of auditability by recording all flight and service logs.

What if these responsibilities weren’t so daunting? What if there was a way to simplify how businesses plan, execute, and manage their commercial drone operation?

Fortunately, technology advancements in AI and blockchain are making it possible to eliminate the manual workflows and enable safe, autonomous operations. For example, when it comes to flight operations, AI technology can analyze crucial data, such as airspace traffic, weather forecasts, ground risks, and aircraft performance, to automatically generate optimal flight paths and autonomously adapt flights as conditions change.

When it comes to regulatory compliance, blockchain can encode the airspace rules, such as flying below 400 feet during daylight hours, as mandatory parameters in a flight planning system. Businesses can also use this technology to set company-wide safety standards for their commercial drone operations, such as flying with at least 20% battery life in reserve. The approach helps automate compliance and ensures all drone operators associated with your organization are following the same rulebook.

Check out our latest eBook to learn more about automating the manual workflows. This comprehensive guide will help prepare your organization for a safe, efficient, and scalable commercial drone operation.
 

Unmanned Traffic Management: 5 Challenges Solved by Blockchain

Unmanned traffic management

As drone technology advances, the use cases are evolving rapidly across the globe. Drones are supporting the COVID-19 pandemic by delivering test kits and disinfecting outdoor surfaces. They’re improving our response to hurricanes and floods by assessing damage and delivering aid to the most devastated areas. And they’re optimizing the oil and gas industry by inspecting pipelines and detecting leaks.

From retail and logistics to healthcare and energy, drone technology is disrupting a wide variety of industries and innovating old business models. But before we can realize its full potential, there are a few key challenges that must be addressed to solve unmanned traffic management (UTM) in the aviation industry at large:

  1. Enabling flight transparency: Real-time awareness of all unmanned flights is critical to optimize the airspace and avoid hazards that can put public safety at risk. This requires drone operators to share accurate, up-to-date flights plans with airspace authorities overseeing both manned and unmanned traffic. This becomes increasingly difficult as businesses operate a larger volume of drones to deliver packages, support emergency response, and conduct industrial inspections. We must simplify the process of sharing real-time flight data to enable better traceability and advance unmanned traffic management across the industry.
  2. Enforcing airspace compliance: Recent drone sightings near airports and critical infrastructure have exposed how drones can put lives at risk and cause major disruptions to operations. Due to rogue drones near the Gatwick Airport, flights were suspended for 30 hours and caused chaos for 140,000 passengers. Oftentimes, these incidents occur when drone operators unintentionally fly too close to an airport and too high in altitude. To avoid future incidents, it’s critical to minimize the potential for human error, particularly in high-risk areas near airports and urban environments.
  3. Advancing aircraft safety: The safety of our airspace also relies on the health of every drone, air taxi, or other unmanned aircraft in flight. A drone with a malfunctioning propeller or battery failure can unexpectedly interfere with the flight path of an airplane, helicopter, or another drone and put public safety in danger. As more aircraft begin sharing the sky, it’s important to ensure every drone is a healthy, high-performing vehicle.
  4. Protecting flight data integrity: In the wake of an incident, accurate flight data is critical to analyze the sequence of events and hold drone operators accountable. But authorities need assurances flight logs haven’t been tampered with by the drone operator or a third party. This requires the industry to ensure the integrity of data exchanged between operators, authorities, service suppliers, and other stakeholders.
  5. Improving industry collaboration: It’s also important to enable a common operating picture across the industry to solve unmanned traffic management. There are still many paper records used in manned aviation that can’t be relied on as the volume of unmanned flights grows. We must eliminate the need for paper documents and open the opportunity for more collaboration with digital records. However, it will be critical to maintain the privacy of confidential data, such as operator details and payload information, so it’s only accessible to authorized parties.

 

What’s the solution to these unmanned traffic management challenges?

 
Blockchain technology. In technical terms, blockchain is a distributed ledger of immutable records stored in a decentralized database. Although it sounds complex, this technology is the key to simplify flight transparency and create immutable audit trails.

In SkyGrid’s blockchain instance, each flight log can be stored in real-time and linked to the previous log with cryptography. That means all flight plans and historical drone data is tamper-proof and verifiable. The use of private keys ensures only authorized parties have access to confidential data.

Augmented with smart contracts, blockchain technology can have an even bigger impact in simplifying unmanned traffic management. It can help automate airspace compliance by encoding the rules as mandatory parameters in a flight planning system. And it can improve aircraft safety by requiring regular system checks and ensuring all maintenance needs are resolved.

Check out our latest whitepaper to learn more about blockchain and its ability to solve many of the biggest challenges in unmanned aviation.
 

A Guide to U-space & the European Drone Rules

European drone rules

Last year, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published common, pan-European drone rules. These rules not only help protect the safety and privacy of EU citizens, but also enable the free movement of drones across European borders.

As a follow-up to these airspace rules, EASA recently published a proposed regulatory framework for U-space to help ensure unmanned aircraft operate in a safe, secure, and connected environment.

Our guide covers everything you need to know about the latest rules and requirements impacting commercial drone operators and airspace authorities across the EU.
 

What are the latest European drone rules?

The common European rules for drones create three categories of operations: open, specific, or certified – each with their own set of regulations.

  •  “Open operations” are for smaller drones up to 25kg. Drones are required to operate within visual line of sight, up to a max height of 120m, in a safe distance from people, and with no dangerous goods. These low-risk operations don’t require authorization, but they’re limited in the airspace they can fly.
  • “Specific operations” go beyond the limitations of the open category to enable more advanced operations, such as beyond visual line of sight with larger drones. Operators are required to receive authorization with the airspace authority in their member state through a risk assessment that evaluates their mitigation measures. Alternatively, operators can be certified via the Light Unmanned Aircraft Operator Certificate (LUC). The LUC comes with privileges for commercial operators to authorize their own operations.
  • “Certified operations” is considered the highest-risk category and covers the use of drones carrying passengers and potentially dangerous goods over densely populated areas. In addition to authorization through a risk assessment, these operations require a certification of the unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

The rules are expected to go into effect beginning July 1, 2020. Once in effect, commercial drone operators are expected to register in the member state where their main place of business is located.
 

What is U-space?

U-space is a set of services to help drone operators comply with the new rules while enabling EU member states to manage the growing volume of drones in their airspace. U-space services can help process UAS flight authorizations and provide operators with the tools and information they need to plan safe flights, prevent collisions with other aircraft, and remain compliant with the environmental, security, and privacy requirements set by each member state. These services are critical to maintain an orderly flow of unmanned traffic and notify authorities of any situations that may pose a safety risk to people or property on the ground.
 

Why are U-space services necessary?

Similar to what we’re seeing in the United States, the rising number of unmanned aircraft in European airspace is leading to safety, security, and airspace integration challenges. As the volume of manned aircraft grows simultaneously, air traffic management systems in Europe are already reaching their limits. These human-centric systems aren’t equipped to safely and efficiently manage a large number of highly automated drone operations. A complementary airspace system is required to manage unmanned traffic. U-space services were established to help fill this gap.
 

What’s the purpose of the U-space regulatory framework?

The development of a regulatory framework aims to enable the safe and harmonized use of U-space services across Europe. Member states are responsible for defining their own UAS geographic zones in the airspace where U-space services will be offered. However, a pan-European regulatory framework can enable a common approach to manage unmanned traffic by having the same rules and procedures for all drone operators across the EU.

The primary objectives of the proposed framework include:

  • Supporting safe, secure, and environmentally friendly operations in U-space airspace while respecting the privacy of European citizens;
  • Maintaining the current safety levels for manned aviation;
  • Creating conditions for an internal market for U-space services; and
  • Ensuring fair, affordable, and efficient access to the U-space airspace for all airspace users.

The regulatory framework can also enable more complex drone operations, such as beyond visual line of sight and advanced air mobility (e.g., air taxis).
 

Who are the stakeholders involved in U-Space?

The regulatory proposal intends to create the conditions for unmanned aircraft to operate safely in controlled and uncontrolled airspace where U-space services are provided. To achieve this, an exchange of information is required between U-space service providers, drone operators, air navigation service providers, and other participants.

Here’s a breakdown of the key U-space participants and their responsibilities according to the proposal:

  • Drone operators: Operators are expected to mitigate risks in the air and on the ground within U-space environments. They’re required to establish a contract with a U-space service provider to receive flight authorization and the services they need to avoid mid-air collisions and ensure an orderly flow of traffic.
  • U-space service providers (USSP): U-space service providers support the safe and efficient movement of drones in the U-space airspace and ensure coordination with manned aircraft. These organizations must be certified to provide U-space services in one or more European member states. To become certified, organizations are required to provide four mandatory U-space services: network identification, geo-awareness, traffic information, and UAS flight authorization. That means providers must be equipped to share critical airspace data (e.g., airspace restrictions, air traffic) with drone operators and exchange UAS operational data with air navigation service providers.
  • Air traffic management (ATM) & air navigation service providers (ANSPs): These providers will continue providing air navigation services for manned aircraft while USSPs provide U-space services for unmanned aircraft. However, these providers must collaborate to ensure flight authorizations are coordinated and exchange information about the airspace designated for manned and unmanned operations.  
  • Member states: Member states in the EU will have full authority on the designation of U-space airspace and decide how their airspace should be accessed and restricted. In addition to the four services required by EASA, member states can require USSPs to provide additional U-space services to support safe and efficient drone operations.

 

How will U-space be implemented in Europe?

 Currently, there are two options being considered:

  • There is no development of a U-space regulatory framework at the EU level. U-space implementation is left to each EU member state.
  • A European regulatory framework for U-space is developed and implemented across the EU.

EASA would prefer to develop a harmonized framework for U-space across Europe. This approach is expected to enable a safer environment and create clear guidelines for managing unmanned traffic. By defining a clear set of rules for all U-space participants, this option will create a minimum level playing field across the EU as well as an efficient and equitable airspace access for all aircraft operators.
 

What’s the impact on commercial drone operators in Europe?

 If U-space is established at the EU level, as proposed by EASA, commercial drone operators will be required to access four services through a U-space service provider:

  • Flight authorization: Commercial drone operators must receive flight authorization through a U-space service provider for access to both controlled and uncontrolled airspace. With visibility into all unmanned traffic, USSPs can pre-tactically manage the traffic flow and deconflict flights before they take place.
  • Geo-awareness: Drone operators must also access information about UAS geographic zones through a U-space service provider to ensure airspace compliance across the EU. Each member state can establish different UAS geographical zones to indicate where drone operators can fly and under which conditions.
  • Network identification: This service enables the traceability of unmanned aircraft during flight through both network and broadcast information. USSPs will exchange this information with other providers to ensure operators have access to the most up to date flight data. This service helps avoid the requirement of additional remote ID equipment for drones.
  • Traffic information: This service alerts drone operators when other aircraft are in close proximity to their vehicle or their intended route. Through network identification information, USSPs can provide accurate data about the position of other aircraft to help operators avoid collisions.

The U-space proposal also includes other optional services drone operators can access through U-space service providers:

  • Tracking service: This supporting service can be used to track both real-time and historical UAS telemetry data. USSPs can track drones through the signal between the aircraft and its remote controller as well as through additional surveillance options (e.g., e-identification). By receiving data from more than one tracking source, this service can provide more reliable unmanned flight data.
  • Weather information: This service provides the weather information necessary to support drone operational decisions in U-space airspace. Since weather data in low altitude airspace isn’t provided by today’s air navigation services, USSPs can provide this information to help operators safely navigate shifting weather conditions.
  • Conformance monitoring: This service monitors the flight path of each drone and compares it to the planned mission as defined during flight authorization. When a new geo-fence or a hazardous situation is detected during flight, the U-space service provider will alert the impacted operators and other USSPs so they can take the appropriate action.

 

What’s the impact on airspace authorities in Europe?

U-space regulations established at the EU level can help minimize the burden on airspace authorities in each member state when it comes to managing unmanned traffic. Without a pan-European regulation, authorities would be responsible for certifying all U-space service providers, maintaining their own national legislation, and ensuring compliance among all participants. This would be in addition to their oversight duties for manned aircraft.

With a pan-European regulation, authorities would be required to redesign their airspace and ensure the accuracy of aeronautical data shared with U-space participations. However, it could enable a harmonized implementation of the U-space airspace and services across the EU.
 

What are the next steps?

The main objective of the U-space proposal is to develop the first building block of a European regulatory framework that can ensure manned and unmanned aircraft safely coexist in U-space airspace while mitigating risks on the ground. The final U-space regulations are expected to be adopted by the European Commission in Q4 2020 and will evolve with the growing density and complexity of unmanned traffic.

Now and after the regulations are finalized, SkyGrid is committed to supporting both commercial operators and airspace authorities in member states across the EU. Our AerialOS™ uses artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to intelligently route, synchronize, and manage unmanned aircraft in shared airspace. We monitor, predict, and adapt to changing conditions to solve the industry’s biggest challenges enabling safe, autonomous flight.
 

Learn more about SkyGrid’s AerialOS.