by Christopher Korody
first appeared in Dronin’ On June 7, 2019

Which brings us to the main story this week, GUTMA’s first Connected Skies Forum happening in Portland, OR June 18-20.

So what’s a GUTMA, what’s the Forum about and why am I back from the river to write about it?

GUTMA is the Global UTM Association, a non-profit consortium of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM) stakeholders.
Its purpose is to foster the safe, secure and efficient integration of drones in national airspace systems. Its mission is to support and accelerate the transparent implementation of globally interoperable UTM systems.

GUTMA has members and partners from 27 countries including such global heavyweights as Airbus, GSMA, Intel and Verizon. GUTMA President Jonathan Evans and Secretary General Fanni Lukácsy invited me to attend to share my impressions with you.
I was happy to accept their invitation because Connected Skies is the first event to bring together the aviation, drone and telecommunication industries to actually discuss how to make unmanned traffic management (which will soon become ‘universal traffic management’) work. The people and the companies involved have the technical expertise and the bank to invest in inventing the future.

SPOILER ALERT This is an uplifting, visionary story! Something good is happening here.

In preparation for the event, I interviewed Jonathan, Fanni, Mark Davis from IntelGraham Trickey from GSMA and Jessie Mooberry from Airbus. They were generous with their time and I had the chance to ask each of them a series of questions.

I began by asking Fanni what her expectations were for the event. She wrote me back explaining that:
GUTMA created #connectedskies to bring together representatives of the aviation and telecommunication industries to discuss UTM. It’s hard to imagine, but this is the first time that these groups will meet which is an essential step to moving forward.

I asked her what success will look like and she told me that:
The event will be successful if we begin the process of building ‘bridges’, one to one relationships that continue after our event and contribute to increased awareness and new kinds of joint efforts.

Graham Trickey, Head of IoT at GSMA, a global trade organization that represents the interests of mobile network operators dropped me a line to say:
Although the memberships of GUTMA and GSMA are very different, they do share a common view that cellular communication can help with UTM. Through Connected Skies, we aim to bring together the aviation and telecom industries to better understand each other.
There are different terminologies used in both and we wanted to encourage discussion about how cellular networks can be used to help with the growth of UA. We have encouraged a number of operators and ecosystem players from the telecom industry to attend the event and make presentations on their experiences of implementing cellular connectivity for UAs and to be available for networking during the event.

Mark Davis, VP Next Generation Systems, Intel brought the need to connect the groups into sharp focus.

“There is a big question about what actually constitutes aviation grade connectivity, and so what is the underlying technology. How will we define Level ‘X’ connectivity?

Unfortunately, each of the communities, cellular, aviation, defense, and regulators are largely unaware of the others needs and capabilities. It’s an easy problem to observe but a hard one to correct. All of these groups have to come together if we are to get to a common language so that we can agree on standards the regulators can use. One step forward is Connected Skies. Hundreds of people, knowing hundreds of people, fattening the pipe.”

Jessie Mooberry is Head of Deployment, Airbus UTM, a group devoted to designing and deploying the critical infrastructure necessary to allow new aircraft to safely enter and share the skies of our future.
She explained that Airbus UTM began as an innovation initiative at Airbus because
“How we think about our airspace is very much changing. It’s become necessary to address the integration of the mission profiles of all of the ‘new entrants’ – sUAS, UAS, UAM, and HAL – that are not currently being served by the current air traffic management system. We understand a more modern and scalable ATM approach is needed and are working towards how best to evolve the system while maintaining aviation safety standards.”

Jessie pointed to several areas that UTM needs to solve for in order to be successful.

  • A harmonized and secure global solution to support safe cross-border operations.
  • Standardized data sets which also address privacy issues.
  • A future-proof infrastructure that address the needs of today, but also supports the vehicle, missions and systems of our rapidly changing airspace.
  • A clear description of how it is going to work based on modeling and understanding of complex systems.

Which brings us to Jonathan Evans, VP Global Aviation Policy, Verizon and the really big picture. Since I first heard Jonathan describe UTM as the TCP/IP of the skies almost two years ago, I have thought of him as ‘the poet of the skies.’ He seldom disappoints.
We began by talking about his interests in the intertwined history of transportation and communications – reflecting on the immediate adoption of the airplane to more rapidly communicate through airmail, and how now these most robust LTE and emerging 5G communications networks now “ubiquitously blanketing the cities of the earth” are available for transportation’s newest and most revolutionary arrival – the “aerial robot”

GUTMA is now three years old and Jonathan is stepping down as President to make room for “new blood.” He told me that

“Since we started, it has become increasingly apparent that the distinction between UTM and conventional ATM is a false dichotomy.”

Which is particularly problematic since aviation “does not speak state of the art very well.” A licensed pilot, he has offered to take me on a plane ride so that I can see just how antiquated the process of using an airport from a technologist’s perspective.
In his view, as the airspace becomes both more saturated and more valuable, the only scalable solution for managing air traffic of all kinds will be software-defined, connected, and distributed interoperable systems. No time to go into the details but think of every aircraft in the sky – manned and unmanned – being connected and knowing where they are and where everybody else is. A vision that when realized will increase the safety and dramatically increase the efficiency of the global aviation system.

Getting there will require that the regulatory agencies make a transition from their current paper, voice, and carbon-based systems to networked, globally interoperable solutions. In this brave new airspace:
”All aircraft will manage themselves on the edge as part of a distributed, networked and federated system. In many ways, this is the system that NextGen and [the EASA/SESAR version] have always had ambitions to be… we’re just updating the idea to take full advantage of modern technologies.”

It’s a huge idea that is leading the group to replace the UAS in GUTMA with Universal – for Universal Traffic Management. Mark Davis pointed out to me that “To get there you need to think about ATM to UTM from the beginning. It’s a whole new way of looking at the airspace.”

Jonathan recognizes that getting there will be neither fast nor easy. He sees Connected Skies as an opportunity to begin the process of building “Demonstrable, deliverable, consensus outcomes that will be the bridge between the technology providers and the regulators.” Serious stuff and the only way that anything is going to get done.

Want to be a bridge to the future? Use DRONINON-CONNSKIES19 to get a 10% discount: apply the code in the upper right corner of the registration panel. I’ll be there. Look for my report Wednesday June 26th before the long weekend.

by Christopher Korody
for Dronin’ On