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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
(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.
(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.
Combatting a pandemic like COVID-19 requires a drastic response and the ability to act quickly. Given the impact the virus has had across the globe, local authorities and political leaders are taking severe measures to ensure a lower rate of transmission.
In times like this, it is imperative to look beyond the conventional methods of detection, containment, and treatment we’ve traditionally used in public health crises. As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, technological advancements in fields such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, and 3D printing can help enhance our current capabilities and get ahead of the outbreak. Healthcare professionals and technologists across the globe are coming together to crowdsource these solutions. An Italian start-up recently 3D-printed 100 valves to connect respirators to oxygen masks, while Shenzhen-based Pudu Technology is using robots to transport medical supplies inside hospitals.
As said by Dr. Alain Labrique, Director of Global Health Initiatives at Johns Hopkins University: “The connectivity we have today gives us ammunition to fight this pandemic in ways we never previously thought possible.”
At SkyGrid, we believe drone technology can also provide a solution to many of the challenges we’re facing today and will continue to face in the months to come. We’ll explore how incorporating drones into emergency response plans can help fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Disinfecting Outdoor Surfaces
Research suggests the coronavirus can live on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces for up to three days. It can also linger in aerosols – tiny droplets in the air – for three hours. However, at a time when many businesses are already struggling, ongoing disinfection can be very costly and labor-intensive, particularly when you consider large sporting arenas, college campuses, playgrounds, parks, outdoor shopping malls, and event venues. It will require a massive effort to keep surfaces clean and prevent dangerous spikes in new cases, especially as children, students, and professionals begin returning to their normal routines.
Disinfectant spray distributed by drones can provide a more efficient, cost-effective solution to sanitize large outdoor surfaces. This approach can help significantly reduce transmission of the virus via contaminated surfaces and respiratory droplets.
Delivering Tests and Critical Supplies
Another challenge during this pandemic has been access to testing and supplies, including everything from respirator masks to hand sanitizer. Companies like Abbot Laboratories and Everlywell are expected to enable millions of COVID-19 tests, including at home test kits. However, we’re still faced with the challenge of distributing tests and supplies without further spreading the virus and overwhelming our healthcare system.
Delivering test kits, blood samples, and urgent medical supplies by drone can help support widespread distribution while also reducing unnecessary human contact. As we’re already seeing in China, drones can cut delivery times of medical supplies by more than half.
Ensuring Compliance with Local Restrictions
As difficult as it is, it’s become evident that social distancing is critical to slow the spread of the coronavirus and allows hospitals to readily care for infected patients over time. From a province in China to the entire nation of Italy, lockdowns have been mandated around the world as new cases soar. In the US, millions of people have been ordered by local officials to stay home, closing schools and all non-essential businesses in several cities. Unfortunately, as the number of confirmed cases continue to rise, more cities—and even entire nations—will need to enforce lockdowns and strict regulations to flatten the curve. The challenge is enforcing these restrictions.
Equipped with loudspeakers and surveillance features, drones can help ensure local compliance by monitoring public areas, such as parks, beaches, and city centers, and enforcing lockdown measures.
What’s required to turn these solutions into a reality?
In the U.S., drone operators are required to register their drones with the FAA, follow Part 107 regulations, and obtain airspace authorization. Drone operators are also responsible for safely navigating the airspace, which is easier said than done. Operators are expected to plan their flight path, monitor their drone’s performance, and maintain separation from other aircraft and obstacles. That’s why many organizations look to SkyGrid for support.
Our AerialOS™ provides airspace awareness, flight operations, and fleet management in one easy to use solution. This system is fueled by advanced airspace intelligence, such as aircraft traffic, flight restrictions, obstacle data, and hyper-local weather data, to enable safer drone operations. We’re also powering our system with next-gen technologies like AI and blockchain. These technologies are critical to generate the optimal flight paths, avoid hazards in-flight, and ensure compliance with the airspace rules and regulations.
Ultimately, we believe drones can have a major impact in the fight against COVID-19. SkyGrid is committed to powering drone operations that can help support businesses, authorities, and first responders during this difficult time.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.