Urban air operations Integrated skies

The new paradigm is all about digitization and automation

Thursday, 20 April 2023

Koen De Vos, Secretary-General at the Global UTM Association (GUTMA), predicts a paradigm shift in the aviation world. “What is the essence of the aviation paradigm for UTM and drones? Why is it worthwhile to qualify UTM and drones as a new paradigm? And how can we move from the current traditional aviation paradigm to the new digital one?” are some of the questions GUTMA tries to answer. 

“It is all about digitization and automation”, De Vos continues. “And indeed digitization and automation are the basis to scale operations. The systems are devised not for a limited number of operations - the sky is the limit!” 

There is no doubt that aviation will change drastically, De Vos argues. “I think we have to focus on the essence of the aviation system to identify the essential features. In traditional air traffic management, deconfliction remains essentially a human centric activity. The air traffic controller overviews the tracks on the radar screen to avoid conflicts. Air traffic flow management and strategic deconfliction is about planning the numbers of aircraft in advance, so that the human is able to manage the numbers of flights in the chunk of airspace under management.” 

These days tactical deconfliction relies on the capabilities of the air traffic controller to react in time and avoid air collisions, completed with a TCAS system. Collision avoidance eventually depends on the air traffic controller and on the pilot reactions on a detected collision risk in flight - the tactical phase. 
“But how does the new aviation paradigm avoid collisions?” De Vos asks. “Well, the new aviation paradigm deconflicts air traffic in advance through a negotiation process between UTM service providers. Such in advance deconfliction will increase the safety levels substantially! And the new aviation paradigm kills the case for the current natural monopoly of air traffic management.” 

Essential features 

According to the GUTMA Secretary-General the essence of this new digital aviation paradigm is the in advance deconfliction and a competitive UTM services market. “If we want to promote a thriving drone service ecosystem, we have to focus on how these two essential features are effectively implemented. What specific features do we have to monitor and what specific actions can we take?” 

De Vos sees the implementation of the EU regulatory framework as a first acid test. “But, from the start, we need to get the certification processes right and make sure that a sufficient number of companies pass the test. Candidate USSPs should be able to rely on international standards to demonstrate compliance with the basic requirements and have access to automated test suites to prepare for certification. CAAs, and especially EASA, should widen their role from safety guarantee to welfare guarantee. Only if an adequate number of companies pass certification, can we build a truly competitive UTM market”, says De Vos.


At the same time drone operations should be set free, De Vos continues. “And adequate airspace should be opened for commercially viable BVLOS operations. Also here the operational conditions should be harmonized to the maximum extent possible; and, above all, be devised to minimize the nuisance to citizens.” 
GUTMA also promotes that the operation centric approach should be consistently applied, not only to operations but also to UTM. “The quality of the UTM services should remain proportionate to the risk of the operation - especially when operators want to provide their own UTM services and drones fly over non-residential areas”, explained De Vos during ADW Hybrid last March.

“These are also the issues that GUTMA would like to tackle in its 2023 working programme. Our Aerial Connectivity Joint Activities will this year deliver concrete manuals to support connectivity. The Standard Harmonization Working Group will focus on standards that support certification and on automated testing. And the Market Working Group will develop its ‘UTM readiness scoreboard’ to track the development of the UTM services markets.”

De Vos said in Amsterdam that “GUTMA is greasing the wheels to turn 2023 into the year of the first successful commercial BVLOS operations and the opening of the UTM services market. We have a strong story to tell. We have a sharp focus on concrete objectives. We will progress!”

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