We talked to Ajay Modha about his role as GUTMA Standards Lead and how his work as Business Unit Head at ANRA Technologies complements the role.

Growing up, Ajay was very inquisitive and enjoyed solving problems, so getting into maths and engineering was inevitable. He chose to read  Aerospace engineering at the University of Southampton and a Phd in the design of helicopters which was part funded by Westalnd Helicopters (now Leonardo).

“My interest in aviation has taken me on an engineering journey from experimental aerodynamics, helicopter performance and structural integrity to aircraft design including stratospheric drones such as QinetiQ’s Zephyr and Facebook’s Aquila”, said Ajay. “Currently, I’m working at ANRA Technologies leading the development and application of UTM technologies aimed at enabling safe and routine operations of drones.”

Ajay became informed about GUTMA when he was working at the Connected Places Catapult, leading the UK’s UTM framework development. The programme was sponsored by the UK Department for Transport and brought together industry partners many of whom were members of GUTMA. This UK project recently demonstrated (Mar 2021) UTM-based drone operations involving multi-USSPs enabled by the ASTM UTM technical standard.

“I volunteered  for the GUTMA Standards Lead role as it was an opportunity to contribute and promote standards activities including the work ANRA’s UTM standards work with ASTM but also to work with GUTMA to support the development and adoption of technical standards.”

In his role as Standards Lead for GUTMA, Ajay acts as a liaison between GUTMA and Standards organisations such as EUROCAE, EUSCG and ISO as well as ACJA. Since joining 2 months ago, he has attended meetings with EUROCAE, ACJA and the EUSCG, communicating the relevant information and developments between the parties.

“There is a lot of Regulatory and Standards activities aimed at progressing drone operations. It is critical for the industry to be involved and take a lead on Standards development as it will help accelerate drone integration. For example, GUTMA’s involvement with ACJA or ANRA Technologies works with ASTM.”

Ajay shared some interesting insights into some of the work going on in the 3 standards bodies, ASTM, EUROCAE and ISO, notably:

  • ASTM has published practical standards on the application of UTM services, e.g. Remote identification and the Draft UTM standard. These have been tested in the US and Europe and have now matured to a point at which the industry can start adopting them. ASTM is now working on a UAM standard, the development of which ANRA is co-chairing.
  • EUROCAE is working on technical standards aimed at both technology and operational performance such as the Geofence standard which is built into the ASTM UTM standard. This is a great example of the organisations building on each other’s work.
  • ISO is about building consensus globally through national standards bodies and is starting to put together functional UTM requirements aimed at a baseline traffic management framework.

Ajay noted that the UAS ecosystem is moving forward at a pace with the support of governments and industry. The regulatory developments in Europe on U-Space and drones as well as the FAA UAS programme has provided generated a lot of interest and clarity but also provided the industry with a much-needed boost and an opportunity to build great products and services.

“Everybody has a view on drone integration and airspace management thereof based on their background, regulatory, academic or industry, but we all agree on maintaining the safety of all users.  Therefore I see the different parties working really well to progress the agenda. For example, ANRA is co-chair of the ASTM UTM/UAM standards and a member of the UK CAA Electronic Conspicuity Working Group”

Ajay is excited about regulatory and market developments such as U-Space, UTM standards activities and the ongoing developmental work on UAM.

On regulation, he added that the work underway at ICAO on its RPAS manual or the US and European regulatory framework on Drones and UTM will enable the industry to take the next big step for unmanned aviation. He feels that this is finally assembling the missing pieces of how drones can be integrated into airspace.

“The industry is very innovative and active in commercialising the use of drones and airspace management technologies. I believe GUTMA has an important role in fostering the safe, secure and efficient integration of drones through the use of UTM technologies but also connecting the diverse stakeholders in airspace management.”

“Regulatory uncertainty around when and how the drone industry could be enabled has been replaced with progressive rules which will allow GUTMA members and others to collaboratively expand the market for UTM and drones.”

Ajay thinks that the ongoing R&D work in the US and Europe must investigate public and commercial perceptions. He predicts that the big demonstrations in the UK and Europe over the next few years, which will tackle these two issues, will showcase how UTM technologies can help progress a key perception issue of safety.

Finally, Ajay believes that UTM technology is critical for safe, routine and scalable drone operations but also provides potential solutions for modernising traditional air traffic management. “At ANRA, we are working with multiple partners to demonstrate UTM solutions across the UAS/UAM ecosystem as well as working with SDOs on standards developments. Unmanned traffic management has a broader significance than the drone ecosystem in that it is changing the way we do airspace management and that will be the lasting impact across the aviation industry.”

Thank you to Ajay for taking the time to talk to us!