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.

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

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.
 

UAS Traffic Management ConOps: A Guide for Commercial Operators

Package delivery drones

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently released version two of its Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management Concept of Operations – short for UTM ConOps. Initially released in 2018, this framework outlines the technical requirements for a successful UTM ecosystem. UTM ConOps V2, released in March 2020, addresses more complex, beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operations in controlled airspace.

You can check out the full 80-page document, or keep reading for the highlights (highly recommended). We’ll start with the basics of UTM and why it’s needed. Then we’ll cover what this framework means for commercial operators, and what’s required of them when operating drones beyond visual line of sight.

 

What is UAS traffic management (UTM)?

The FAA defines UAS traffic management (UTM) as a system that’s separate but complimentary to the FAA’s Air Traffic Management (ATM) system for manned aircraft. UTM will enable multiple BVLOS drone operations at low altitudes (under 400 feet) in both controlled and uncontrolled airspace.

As shown in the diagram below, Class G airspace is uncontrolled while Class A, B, C, D, and E are considered controlled airspace. The FAA sets the regulatory standards and requires authorizations for drones operating in controlled airspace, but air traffic services are not provided under 400 feet. Commercial operators are ultimately responsible for the coordination, execution, and management of their drones in controlled airspace with support from UAS service suppliers like SkyGrid.

For example, as a UAS service supplier of the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), SkyGrid helps automate airspace authorizations and provides the tools operators need to safely navigate the airspace.

FAA UTM operations
(Source: FAA; UTM operations in context of airspace classes)
 

Why is there a need for UAS traffic management?

In the U.S. alone, the FAA predicts the combined number of recreational and commercial drones will reach up to 3 million by 2023. When there are millions of unmanned flights supporting package deliveries, infrastructure inspections, emergency assistance, and more, the existing air traffic management system will become overburdened and stretched beyond its limits. This system isn’t equipped to cost-effectively scale and deliver services to drones.

The challenge is drone operators often need more information than traditional pilots for safe and secure flight. They’re operating aircraft at a lower altitude, which can lead to bigger public safety risks. That means in addition to aircraft traffic data, drone operations need access to weather data like wind, precipitation, and temperature; environment data like stadiums, schools, and construction cranes; and vehicle data like battery life, weight capacity, and maintenance requirements. To avoid potential incidents, drone operators also need information about ground activity, such as roadway traffic and population data.

Most importantly, drone operators need a system to monitor and interpret all this data to make more informed decisions when planning and executing missions.

 

Who are the participants and entities involved in UAS traffic management?

Here’s a quick overview of the participants and entities involved in UAS traffic management, according to the FAA’s UTM ConOps framework.

UAS traffic management participants:

FAA: Within UTM, the FAA’s primary role is to provide a regulatory framework for UAS operations and share airspace constraint data (e.g., flight restrictions, facility maps).

Operators: The person or business responsible for the overall management of their UAS operation. They’re expected to plan and execute their operation, comply with regulations, and share operational data with the UAS traffic management ecosystem.

Remote pilot in command (RPIC): The remote pilot in command is responsible for individual UAS flights and may serve as both the operator and the pilot. During flight, they’re expected to follow the airspace rules, monitor the drone’s performance, and avoid obstacles and hazardous conditions.

General public: Other UTM stakeholders include the general public, law enforcement, and first responders. When authorized, these entities can access UTM operation data to help ensure the safety and privacy of people and property on the ground.

UTM services and supporting infrastructure:

UAS service supplier (USS): UAS service suppliers, such as SkyGrid, help enable the safe, secure, and efficient use of our airspace. They act as a communication bridge between authorities and drone operators, and often provide tools to monitor the airspace, execute safe missions, and store operational data.

UAS service supplier network: Multiple UAS service suppliers can operate in the same geographical area and create a network to share information and ensure situational awareness. Shared information includes flight plans, flight status, and aircraft location.

Flight information management system (FIMS): This entity enables the exchange of national airspace data (e.g., UAS registrations, waivers, flight restrictions, emergencies) between the FAA and the USS network. The FAA also uses this system to access information from the UTM ecosystem and audit drone operations.

UAS supplemental data service providers: In addition to national airspace data, supplemental data providers can enable more advanced airspace information, such as terrain, obstacle, weather, and population insights. UAS service suppliers like SkyGrid partner with these providers to give drone operators the most the up to date information about the airspace and the ground below.

FAA UTM architecture
(Source: FAA; UTM architecture)

 

What does the UTM framework mean for commercial drone operators?

It depends on whether a business needs to operate drones within or beyond visual line of sight. If a business can complete their mission by operating drones within visual line of sight, the process isn’t quite as complex. They’re required to register their drone with the FAA, follow the Part 107 regulations, obtain airspace authorization, and ensure their drone is remotely identifiable.

However, in many cases, businesses need to operate drones beyond visual line of sight to complete a wide range of missions from package deliveries to industrial inspections. That means they’ll need more advanced technology in place to identify other aircraft, stay up to date on airspace changes, and safely reroute drones to avoid potential hazards.

The FAA’s UAS Traffic Management ConOps further details what’s required of BVLOS drone operators to ensure the safety, security, and equity of our airspace. We’ll break down each pillar and explain how UAS service suppliers can help commercial drone operators meet these requirements.

 

What are the safety requirements for BVLOS operations?

When it comes to safety of airspace, the FAA’s UAS traffic management framework outlines several requirements for commercial drone operators, including the following.

Strategic management of operations: BVLOS operators are required to plan their operation and share their intended flight path, including specific entry and exit times in authorized airspace, with a UAS service supplier. This intent data is then shared with authorities and the USS network to provide situational awareness for other operators. However, creating a flight plan is easier said than done. That’s why many operators look to UAS service suppliers like SkyGrid for support. For example, our system uses AI to generate optimal flight paths based on the mission criteria, vehicle performance, and airspace conditions. This helps operators remove the manual guesswork from the process.

Separation provision/conflict management: BVLOS operators are also responsible for maintaining separation from all aircraft, including other drones and manned aircraft. This often requires in-flight deconfliction technology from a UAS service suppliers. For example, SkyGrid uses deconfliction technology powered by AI to detect and avoid nearby aircraft. This technology can also help BVLOS operators ensure their drone remains within the bounds of their intended flight path.

Contingency management: In the event of a contingency, operators are also responsible for notifying affected aircraft users. 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. A UAS service supplier can assist in notifying authorities and affected operators of the new flight plan and emergency status until the hazard is no longer a risk. UAS service suppliers can also help manage the situation effectively or help prevent the contingency altogether. For example, SkyGrid uses AI technology to analyze drone performance and predict maintenance needs before disaster strikes.

 

What are the security requirements for BVLOS operations?

In the UAS Traffic Management ConOps, security refers to the protection against threats that stem from intentional acts (e.g., terrorism) or unintentional acts (e.g., human error), affecting people and/or property in the air or on the ground.

Commercial drone operators are responsible for protecting their drones from both intentional and unintentional acts. If a security incident occurs, commercial drone operators are also required to share certain flight data, such as their intended flight paths, route changes, and a timestamp of coordinates. The FAA uses this data to 1) ensure operators are compliant with standards, 2) hold operators accountable, and 3) inform other operators in the vicinity of the threat. Local, state, and federal entities may also request access to this data to investigate and inform responses to security incidents.

A UAS service supplier can support commercial operators by securely logging the required flight data and responding to authorized requests for access in near-real time. For example, SkyGrid uses blockchain technology to maintain a minute by minute record of each drone’s status, flight details (e.g., altitude, location), and maintenance history. Each flight log is linked to the previous log with cryptography, which creates a verified data source for authorities. UAS service suppliers can also help prevent incidents in the first place by deploying cybersecurity protection on the drones in their system.

 

What are the airspace equity requirements for BVLOS operations?

The UAS Traffic Management ConOps also outlines a framework to enable the shared use of airspace. Although the FAA sets the airspace rules, there’s not a priority policy in place that would diminish equity of access. In other words, drone operators have equal access to airspace where they’re authorized to fly.

However, BVLOS operators are required to share accurate, up-to-date flight plans to optimize the airspace and pre-empt unnecessary deconfliction. They’re also required to exercise caution around any emergency vehicles in the air, such as a helicopter.

UAS service suppliers can support operators by identifying flight paths that minimize overlap with other routes and by sharing flight plans with the UTM ecosystem in near-real time. Service suppliers can also help ensure operators aren’t optimizing their own routes at the expense of others.

 

How does SkyGrid fit into the UTM ecosystem?

Ultimately, businesses are responsible for the overall safety and security of their drone operation and are accountable for their actions. This can feel daunting, but SkyGrid can help. We’re more than just a UTM platform. Our AerialOS™ provides an end to end solution for businesses to deploy, manage, and scale their drone operation. Most importantly, our system is powered by next-gen technologies like AI and blockchain that traditional UTM systems aren’t equipped with today.

Why is this important? AI is critical to generate the safest routes, avoid hazards in-flight, and protect against cyberattacks. At the same time, blockchain technology is the key to mandate airspace compliance and create verified audit trails. Bottom line: Our intelligent system minimizes the potential for human error to give businesses more legal and safety assurances.

 

Learn more about SkyGrid’s AerialOS.

Remote ID for Drones: Your Guide to the FAA’s Proposed Rule

FAA remote ID rules

Today, nearly 1.5 million drones and 160,000 remote pilots are registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and these numbers are growing every day. However, the lack of a comprehensive system to remotely ID drones has been a long-standing barrier to the adoption of commercial drones used to deliver packages, conduct industrial inspections, or assist in search and rescue missions.

To ensure the safety of our airspace, we need a way to track registered drones and quickly identify unauthorized aircraft. That’s where remote ID technology comes into play.

In case you missed it, the FAA recently proposed new rules that would require drones to be remotely identifiable in the United States. We’ll break down the basics of remote ID, why it’s important, and what the proposed rules mean for commercial drone operators.
 

What is remote ID?

Remote ID technology helps identify unmanned aircraft operating in the airspace. A comprehensive remote ID system could enable every drone inflight to transmit or broadcast a unique identifier that can be tracked in a shared database in near real-time.
 

Why is remote ID important for drones?

There are several different approaches to identify and track the growing number of drones in the airspace. But why is this technology important in the first place?

For starters, remote ID for drones can provide situational awareness to other aircraft and identify unauthorized vehicles that may pose a security threat. A remote ID system can also help law enforcement hold drone operators accountable if they violate any nuisance or privacy laws.

Secondly, remote ID efforts will help lay the foundation for more complex commercial drone operations, such as flying beyond visual line of sight, over people, or at night. Without a waiver, these operations are not allowed under the FAA’s current Part 107 regulations. A remote identification network is the first step to expand these advanced operations without requiring a waiver.

Finally, a comprehensive remote ID system has the potential to help increase public trust in commercial drone operations by providing information about which drones are operating nearby and who is operating them.
 

What are the FAA’s proposed remote ID rules?

In a nutshell, the FAA’s proposed rules provide a framework for remote identification of all unmanned aircraft systems operating in the United States airspace. The rules would facilitate the collection and storage of certain UAS data, such as a drone’s identity, location, altitude, and control station.
 

How would drone operators comply?

According to the proposed rules, drone operators in the United States would have to meet the remote identification requirements in one of three ways:

  1. Standard remote identification – In this instance, the drone must connect to the internet and transmit its identifying information to a Remote ID UAS Service Supplier. The drone must also broadcast this information via radio frequency from takeoff to landing.
  2. Limited remote identification – If the drone is not capable of broadcasting its identifying information via radio frequency, it must operate within 400 feet of its control station and within visual line of sight. However, the drone still needs to be capable of connecting to the internet and transmitting its identifying information to a Remote ID UAS Service Supplier.
  3. FAA-recognized identification area – If the drone does not have remote identification capabilities, it must operate within the pilot’s visual line of sight and within a FAA-recognized identification area. Once the rules are in effect, the FAA plans to maintain a list of eligible areas where drones without remote identification can operate.

FAA remote ID
(FAA chart)
 

What is a Remote ID UAS Service Supplier?

Remote ID UAS Service Suppliers, qualified by the FAA, would collect and store the required remote identification information on behalf of drone operators. The suppliers would perform this service under contract with the FAA based on the same model the FAA currently uses for the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC).

For example, as a UAS Service Supplier of LAANC, SkyGrid is approved by the FAA to provide LAANC services and help automate the application process for airspace authorizations. Once the proposed remote ID rules are finalized, UAS Service Suppliers (USS) may be qualified as both a Remote ID USS and a LAANC USS.
 

What identifying information would be required under the proposed rules?

To meet the proposed Remote ID rules, the following identifying information would be required for standard remote identification of drones.

  • UAS Identification – This establishes the unique identity of a drone operating in the U.S. airspace. This identifier could either be the serial number assigned by the drone manufacturer or a session ID assigned by a Remote ID UAS Service Supplier.
  • Control Station Location – The latitude and longitude of the drone’s control station, used by the FAA and authorized entities to locate the operator when necessary for safety or security reasons.
  • Aircraft Altitude – The drone’s barometric pressure altitude, used to provide situational awareness to other aircraft, both manned and unmanned, operating nearby.
  • Time Mark – A record of time that shows when a drone was at a particular set of coordinates. A time mark for the position of the control station would also apply.
  • Indication of Emergency Status – A code that indicates the drone’s emergency status, which could include lost-link, downed aircraft, or other abnormal status. This could be initiated manually by the pilot or automatically by the drone.

 

How would I protect the privacy of sensitive drone data?

Under the propose rules, commercial drone operators could partner with a Remote ID UAS Service Supplier to provide the identifying information to the FAA. Only the required information would be considered publicly accessible. The FAA would not have access to any other information collected by a Remote ID USS.

However, some businesses operating drones may be concerned with the collection and analysis of flight information by their competitors. By working with a Remote ID USS, drone operators can transmit a session ID rather than a serial number for an added layer of operational privacy. When a session ID is issued, only the FAA and authorized entities, such as law enforcement, could correlate the session ID to the drone serial number and registration data.

To further protect sensitive flight data, SkyGrid is powering its AerialOS® with blockchain technology. The decentralized nature of the system provides more security and privacy than traditional centralized storage because there’s not one database a bad actor can compromise. Each flight log is linked to the previous log with cryptography so they can’t be maliciously tampered or altered retroactively.
 

Who do the proposed remote ID rules apply to?

Within the U.S. airspace, all recreational and commercial drone operators would be required to comply. The only exceptions are for amateur-built drones, unmanned aircraft operated by the U.S. government, and drones that weigh less than 0.55 pounds. Manufacturers will also be required to produce drones in accordance with the performance and design requirements for standard remote identification or limited remote identification.
 

When do the proposed rules go into effect?

The FAA is currently seeking public input to develop a final rule to enhance the safety of the U.S airspace. The comment period for public feedback will close March 2, 2020. If the rule is finalized, manufacturers would have two years to comply, and drone operators would have three years to phase out non-compliant vehicles.

Ultimately, the proposed Remote ID rules have global implications as other national airspace authorities look to implement their own set of airspace rules and regulations. As a UAS Service Supplier of LAANC, SkyGrid is looking forward to further partnering with the FAA to help shape remote ID standards and safely integrate drones in the global airspace.