Top Drone Mistakes (Part 1): Misinterpreting New FAA Drone Rules

FAA drone rules

Getting started as a new drone pilot can be intimidating. There are a lot of FAA drone rules and best practices to follow that often use confusing language and change on a regular basis. To clear up some of the confusion, we’re kicking off a new series to help pilots avoid the top drone mistakes in 2021 and beyond. No matter if you’re a new drone hobbyist or an experienced commercial pilot, this series will be a good reminder of what NOT to do when operating drones.

In Part 1, we’re focused on the misconceptions around the new FAA drone rules, including operations over people, vehicles, and at night.
 

Mistake 1: Flying directly over people with exposed propellers

You may have heard the news that the FAA will allow drones to fly over people without a waiver, but keep in mind this rule is limited to certain conditions. There are four different categories of aircraft eligibility, and in all cases, the drone must contain no exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin. Drones with propeller guards are eligible as long as they prevent the blades from causing lacerations.

The total drone weight must also be 0.55 pounds or less. If the drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds, additional conditions are required, such as a declaration of compliance, label requirements, and potential injury limitations. You can read the FAA’s full list of rules for flights over people here for more details. They’re expected to go into effect starting March 2021.
 

Mistake 2: Flying over moving vehicles for a sustained timeframe

The FAA also announced drones can now fly over moving vehicles under certain conditions. For starters, drones must meet the same requirements for flying over people. The drone must also remain within a closed/restricted access site where everyone is on notice that an unmanned aircraft may fly over their vehicle.

If you’re not within a closed/restricted access site, drones are not permitted to maintain sustained flight over moving vehicles. Sustained flight is defined as hovering, flying back and forth, or circling the area. That means drones can still briefly fly over moving vehicles if they’re in transit to another location. These new rules will be effective 60 days after the FAA’s official publication, so likely March 2021.
 

Mistake 3: Flying at night without anti-collision lights & proper training

Flying at night was also permitted by the new FAA drone rules, but drones must have a flashing anti-collision light that’s visible for at least 3 statute miles. It’s also required for drone operators to complete a Part 107 knowledge test or recurrent online training for those who already completed the initial test. The FAA is currently updating the testing and training materials to add new information about night operations.
 

Mistake 4: Flying commercially without proof of your Remote Pilot Certificate

A Remote Pilot Certificate (a.k.a. a drone license) is required to operate drones under the FAA’s Part 107 rules, which are primarily meant for operators flying for business, a commercial enterprise, nonprofit work, or for educational purposes. Keep in mind that any drone operation that results in direct compensation or used to advance any business can be considered commercial use and will require a drone license.

The new FAA drone rules require Part 107 pilots to have their certification in possession when operating drones. To obtain a certificate, drone operators must pass an initial in-person knowledge test. Pilots are no longer required to pass a recurrent knowledge test every 24 months, which previously cost $160. Instead, the FAA plans to offer a free online recurrent training, which will be required to fly at night. This training is expected to be available at faasafety.gov in March 2021.
 

Mistake 5: Flying without registering your drone

All drone pilots are required to register their drone with the FAA, unless it weighs 0.55 pounds or less and is flown exclusively under the rules for recreational flyers. Registration costs $5 and is valid for 3 years. It can be done via the FAA DroneZone website. Once complete, pilots are required to label their drone with the registration number.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we’ll focus on the top drone mistakes when flying near restricted areas. In the meantime, check out our new drone app to help simplify compliance when planning your flights.
 

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

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

remote ID drones

Today, more than 1.7 million drones and 203,000 remote pilots are registered with the FAA, and these numbers are growing every day. However, the lack of a drone identification system has been a long-standing barrier to the scalability of unmanned aircraft. That barrier will soon be broken down. The FAA recently unveiled their final remote ID rule that will require drones to broadcast their location in the United States.

We’ll break down the basics of remote ID and what the new rule means for drone operators.
 

What is remote ID?

Remote ID technology, also known as a digital license plate, helps identify unmanned aircraft operating in the airspace. The FAA aims to create a comprehensive remote ID system where every drone in-flight broadcasts a unique identifier. This would allow authorities to identify any drone in the airspace and connect it with a registered pilot, much like an automobile license plate identifies a vehicle and the vehicle’s owner.
 

Why is remote ID important for drones?

First, remote ID technology can help aviation authorities provide situational awareness to other aircraft and identify unauthorized drones that may pose a security threat. Remote identification 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 drone operations, such as flying over people, vehicles, or at night. Without a waiver, these operations were previously prohibited under the FAA’s Part 107 regulations. Remote identification is the first step to enable these advanced operations without requiring a waiver. In fact, the FAA recently announced they would begin allowing flights over people, vehicles, and at night under certain conditions.

Finally, a comprehensive remote ID system can help increase public trust in drone operations by providing assurances that the drones operating nearby are legal and safe.
 

What is the FAA’s final remote ID rule?

Under the final rule, all drones required to register with the FAA must enable remote identification. This would apply to all drones in the United States unless the drone weighs 0.55 pounds or less and is flown exclusively under the rules for recreational flyers. Drone operators can also choose to fly in a FAA-Recognized Identification Area where drones without remote ID are allowed to fly.

Otherwise, the rule requires the following data to be broadcasted: the drone’s serial number or an anonymous session ID; the drone’s position, altitude, and velocity; the position and altitude of the control station; emergency status; and time mark.
 

What’s required for drone operators to comply with remote ID?

In short, drone operators will have one of three methods for complying:

  1. Standard Remote ID Unmanned Aircraft: Drone pilots can operate a standard remote ID drone that broadcasts the required data directly from the drone via radio frequency broadcast (likely Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology). The remote ID data will be available to most personal wireless devices within range of the broadcast. However, the rule states that correlating the serial number or session ID with the registered drone will be limited to the FAA. This information can also be made available to authorized law enforcement and national security personnel upon request. This method is most likely to enable beyond visual line of sight operations, depending on the broadcast range of the drone.
  2. Unmanned Aircraft with a Remote ID Broadcast Module: Drone pilots can also operate a drone with a remote ID broadcast module (may be a separate device attached to the drone). This would enable the retrofit of existing drones that don’t have remote ID capabilities. However, this method would require all drones to operate within visual line of sight.
  3. FAA-Recognized Identification Areas (FRIA): Drone pilots can also choose to operate a drone without remote ID, but at specific FAA-Recognized Identification Areas. No FAA-Recognized Identification Areas have been announced yet, but regulators will start approving applications for new zones in 2022. Organizations eligible to apply for establishment of a FRIA include community-based organizations recognized by the FAA, primary and secondary educational institutions, trade schools, colleges, and universities.

FAA remote ID rules

(Source: FAA)
 

When does the remote ID rule go into effect?

The final rule will take effect 30 months after publication. That means by the end of Summer 2023, remote ID will be mandatory for all qualifying drones in the United States. At this time, drone manufacturers will be required to produce drones that are compliant with the rule, and drone pilots will be required to fly a compatible drone.

It’s also worth noting that under the standard remote ID method, drone operators will not be able to disable the remote ID technology. The drone is required to self-test pre-flight and will not take off if remote ID isn’t functioning.

You can read the FAA’s fine print for more remote ID details here.

Ultimately, SkyGrid is committed to providing the solutions drone pilots need to simplify their operations and comply with FAA regulations as they evolve. Stay tuned for more updates from SkyGrid in the coming months.

In the meantime, be sure to check out our free drone app: SkyGrid Flight Control. The all-in-one app makes it easy to explore airspace, get LAANC, automate flights, and detect objects in real-time.
 

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

AI Meets Drones: Detecting Objects In-Flight with Computer Vision

drone computer vision

Over the last two to three years, artificial intelligence has been a game changer for the drone industry. AI can be used to autonomously execute safe flight plans, predict drone maintenance needs, and protect drones from cybersecurity attacks.

During flight, AI can also be used to detect and track objects of interest in real-time through computer vision. This powerful technology is opening the door to new drone use cases that were previously unimaginable. It can help improve emergency response, animal conservation, perimeter security, site inspections, and much more.

Our free SkyGrid Flight Control app is equipped with computer vision to detect people, vehicles, animals, and other key objects in real-time as drone operators autonomously surveil a defined area. Get the scoop below and read on for more details.


 

What is computer vision?

Computer vision is a field of artificial intelligence that trains computers to identify, interpret, and track objects in imagery and video. The technology is driven by pattern recognition. It’s trained by feeding computer models thousands to millions of images with labeled objects. This allows the algorithms to establish a profile (e.g., color, shape) for each object to then identify the objects in unlabeled images.

Thanks to advances in machine learning and neural networks, computer vision has made great leaps in recent years and can often surpass the human eye in detecting and labeling certain objects. One of the driving factors behind this growth is the amount of data we generate that can be used to train computer vision models more accurately.
 

How does SkyGrid’s computer vision work?

Our computer vision is powered by a well-known neural network called YOLO, short for You Only Look Once. The YOLO object detection model is especially popular for real-time on-device systems because it is both small and very fast, while still maintaining high levels of accuracy. The models have been trained to recognize 80 different categories of common objects, such as people, cars, trucks, animals, electronics, and other objects. As a result, the SkyGrid Flight Control app achieves near real-time object detection (about 10-20 frames per second on an iPad) through a drone’s live video stream. See example below.

drone computer vision

SkyGrid Flight Control also enables users to select a detected object and track it through a drone’s live video feed. The algorithm itself is very performant, running at 60+ frames per second on an iPad.

drone object detection

Why kind of use cases can drone computer vision enable?

Our computer vision capabilities can support a wide variety of recreational and commercial drone use cases. It can help identify a missing person during a search and rescue operation or detect potential threats near critical infrastructure, such as an oil pipeline or high-security building. It can be used to count cars in parking lots to predict retail earnings or used to monitor wildlife to detect potential poachers. It can even help monitor social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

For enterprise customers, SkyGrid can train models to detect and track custom objects based on the mission objectives. For example, models could be trained to detect hurricane debris to help identify the most damaged areas in need of assistance. They could be trained to detect defects in solar panels to help improve the power output from a solar farm. Or they could be trained to detect sharks at the surface of the water to prevent attacks at popular beaches.
 

How will your computer vision capabilities evolve?

We’re constantly improving our computer vision models to make our object detection and tracking features more performant, robust, and specialized. Today, drone operators will see greater detection accuracy with a head-on view, which often requires flying at a lower altitude. In the coming months, we’re working to optimize this capability to improve accuracy at higher altitudes and maximize the usability to users. Stay tuned for more updates!
 

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

 

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.

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.

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.

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.