Dubai is at the forefront when it comes to rules and regulations surrounding drones. And that is largely due to technology developed by Exponent Technology Services. Asam Khan (CEO) and Ayhan Kamil (CCO) are happy to share their vision with the rest of the world. Because if the developments continue at the same pace, then some haste is needed.
Although Exponent Technology Services was founded in 2012, Asam Khan (CEO) and Ayhan Kamil (CCO) led the company to worldwide fame when it introduced a tracking system for drones in 2015. Because air traffic at Dubai airport had already been stopped several times due to the presence of drones, the authorities were looking for a solution. At the time, Exponent Technology Services had just developed a tracking system for its own drone fleet and offered its services to the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA). As a result, Dubai became the first place in the world to make it mandatory to record and track commercial drone flights using Exponent Technology Services' systems: SkyCommander (hardware) and SkyTrax (software). And with that, it was also the first place where a fully functioning UTM system was operational.
Several UTM projects followed in New Zealand, Italy, Finland, Spain and India resulting in the formation of AstraUTM as a spin-off company completely focussed on UTM solutionsMoreover, Exponent Technology Services provides Astra UTM for Expo2020 in Dubai and participates in the European AMU-LED project.
Whereas in the early days it was mainly about being able to track drones, Asam Khan now sees more collaborations with aviation authorities and air traffic controllers. “Certainly around congested airspaces, there is more cooperation required to ensure that all air traffic runs smoothly. With our software we are also able to keep the majority of drones out of critical airspace by means of geofencing.”
It is not without reason that Exponent Technology Services is one of the members of the Complete Air Traffic System (CATS) Global Council, which was founded in March by CANSO. Both Asam Khan and Ayhan Kamil believe that the time is ripe for the next stage of airspace harmonisation globally. Kamil: “The goal is to establish a cohesive vision. In recent years, many parties have done a lot of work to achieve great strides in both technology and regulations. Now it's time to work together on what we call unified airspace management, rather than unmanned airspace management.”
And Exponent Technology Services can actually add something to the work of the Global Council, says Kamil: “We were the first company in the world to implement a commercialised and fully functioning UTM system enabling day to day city-wide drone operations. We therefore have unique know-how and skills to track drones in an extremely efficient and proven manner. We are now working to bring that capability in line with other standards so that it works everywhere. We are already compliant with ASTM F3411 - 19 Standard Specification for Remote ID and Tracking. We have already demonstrated services such as real-time tracking, real-time situational awareness, weather services, obstacle and terrain avoidance and would e like to share our knowledge for the benefit of faster adoption of UTM services globally. We believe eventually all UTMs will be interoperable. We are therefore happy to contribute to the standardization and harmonization of visions between the various stakeholders.”
Although cooperation with the more traditional aviation parties is essential, the development of a new and integrated aviation management system will be completely different from the existing ATM systems. “Aviation has gradually developed into what it is today since World War II,” Khan explains. “That cannot be compared with the rise of drones. These did not exist 10 years ago and now 2.4 million fly in the US alone. And the growth will be exponential in the coming years.” “Or take an airport like the one in Dubai,” adds Kamil. “That is one of the largest in the world. With 1600 take-offs and landings per day. With drones you will soon be talking about hundreds of thousands of take-offs and landings per day. You can only manage that sort of scale with automation baked in at the core of all UTM services...” To which Khan says: “The ability to integrate and manage such large scales makes it has to be done propoundlessly, intelligently and efficiently.”
Khan and Kamil applaud the developments in Europe, where great strides have been made in drone regulation in recent times. But at the same time they sigh that the world should focus a little more on Dubai. Because Dubai is not the wild west that Europe and the US sometimes mistake the Emirate for. “Dubai was the first city to have a commercialised UTM operational,” Khan said. “And what's more, the authorities here are leading the way with regulations that are in line with reality,” adds Kamil. “No place in the world has ever formed a law that covers the creation of an aerial infrastructure network and integrated framework for manufacturing, licensing, inspection, sale and ownership, as well as drone-based transport activities and services regulations. The pioneering legislation will pave the way for the implementation of Dubai Sky Dome, an initiative that will provide a master plan of a virtual airspace infrastructure for commercial drone use in the Emirate.”
Khan: “With all due respect for the developments in Europe and the US, Dubai has forged an early path with a comprehensive set of evolving regulations making real-world adoption of drone use-cases possible.In fact, a tourist in Dubai can obtain a drone pilot license and fly a drone legally within a day - in a safe and responsible manner. To our knowledge such ease of access doesn't exist anywhere in the world. So it can't hurt to use Dubai as an example for legislation elsewhere.”