This is the introduction to an article written by Francis Schubert, chief corporate development and deputy CEO at skyguide, in May 2016. The paper expresses the personal views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the position of his employer or national authorities. The full document is available here.

1. Introduction

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) sector is evolving quickly. The number of devices, commonly known as “drones”, produced and launched annually is expanding widely, and new applications are constantly being developed. Although it is to be expected that not all such applications will be successful from a business perspective, it is undisputable that these new entrants will have a major effect on the air transportation system.

It is becoming apparent that because of the numbers and the diversity of applications involved, some sort of infrastructure will be required to support the safe operation of drones in those parts of the airspace that are opening to UAS operations. That future infrastructure is coming to be known as UAS Traffic Management (UTM), based on the model under development by NASA.

The development of the UTM is a bottom-up process conducted by an extremely dynamic and innovative industry. However, it remains a loose and uncoordinated process, without any visible structured leadership, building on a multitude of specific projects launched by individual organisations. In theory the shape, functions, and components of the future UTM could emerge from the combination of the most successful initiatives, in a way similar to the process that led to the emergence of the Internet.

The development of the UAS is though not occurring in a vacuum, and powerful external factors will need to be accounted for, which will influence the future of UTM. The main such consideration is that the UAS business is arising alongside an incumbent industry, namely manned civil aviation. The airspace open to civil aviation is presently managed by established air navigation services providers (ANSPs) in accordance with Air Traffic Management (ATM) rules produced by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). To the extent that UAS will share the airspace with manned aircraft under the responsibility of incumbent ANSPs, it is difficult to imagine the development of a UTM in full isolation from the existing air navigation services (ANS) system.

One of the main challenges for the establishment of future UTM will be to define a strategy that reconciles two worlds operating on the bases of fundamentally different business models. The purpose of this paper is to offer an ANS perspective of future UTM with a view to support the development of a UTM strategy that is pragmatic and realistic and that capitalises on emerging opportunities while managing all safety-related issues without complacency.

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