One of the major technology trends of the future is autonomous driving and flying. Just as there will be cars that drive independently in the future, autonomous aircraft can also operate in the air. Unmanned Aerial Traffic Management (UTM) plays a central role in this.

In recent months, a lot has changed above our heads without necessarily experiencing everything directly. Drones have been in commercial and industrial use for a long time, flying non-stop around the world for transport, construction, energy, medicine, and other purposes. But with the increasing traffic of unmanned aircraft, new challenges are emerging.

Up to now, Air Traffic Management has fulfilled the task of coordinating the airspace and the road users there. In the meantime, however, ATM is increasingly being supplemented by UTM, Unmanned Aerial Traffic Management. UTM can be understood as part of ATM. But what exactly distinguishes Air Traffic Management from Unmanned Air Traffic Management?

ATM – the Air Traffic Management

Air Traffic Management describes the management of airspace use. The aim is the safe, economical, and efficient movement of aircraft and other aircraft such as drones. This also includes providing appropriate services for operators. Facilities and services must thus reliably provide airborne and ground-based functions. ATM also includes ASM (Air Space Management), ATFM (Air Traffic Flow Management), and ATS (Air Traffic Services).

1) ASM: Airspace management divides the airspace into different areas. The division is dynamic and based on airspace use categories. Examples of airspace categories are “civil commercial aviation” or “civil non-commercial aviation”.

2) ATFM: ATFM, or air traffic flow management, plans and controls air traffic. It ensures a safe and orderly flow of air traffic, with the highest possible utilization of capacity.

3) ATS: ATS is generally understood to include all air traffic control functions and tasks. This includes air traffic control and flight information service. In Germany, these tasks are performed by DFS (Deutsche Flugsicherung).

UTM as the latest management system of the air

UTM, like ATM, is designed to regulate air traffic. But UTM faces different challenges than ATM. Unlike ATM, it also involves unmanned aerial vehicles.

There are several terms hidden behind the acronym UTM. However, the most common are Unmanned Traffic Management, Unmanned Air Traffic Management, and UAS Traffic Management. Where UAS itself means “Unmanned Aircraft System” and is a synonym for “drone”.

In order to integrate unmanned aircraft into the airspace, a high technical effort is required. On the one hand, because communication must be different from that of manned aircraft and, on the other because the flight altitude is not identical to the flight altitude of manned aircraft. UAS fly at a maximum altitude of 120 meters.

Unlike ATM, UTM, therefore, tends to regulate lower airspace. The lower airspace is constantly subject to several changes and, unlike ATM, the situation on the ground must be constantly monitored. To enable UTM, drones must be uniformly equipped with a GPS module and a mobile radio transmitter unit. This ensures communication with the aircraft and determines its position.

This is because UTM is intended to be used primarily wherever drone missions are taking place outside of the visual range. BVLOS flights, meaning flights beyond the visual line of sight, are particularly suitable for routine flights. Therefore, BVLOS flights require a high degree of automation and digitalization.

One of the biggest challenges is the integration of UTM into the long-established ATM, because unmanned flight systems must recognize other flying objects in an emergency and vice versa. In addition, there are systems, authorities, and responsibilities in ATM that can be usefully extended by UTM.

UTM should, therefore, be seen as a further component of ATM and not completely detached from it. Instead, both systems must be as compatible as possible. Only in this way can safe and efficient, but also scalable operations succeed.

New possibilities for construction, energy & infrastructure

The new technical possibilities that arise here form the basis for a whole series of innovations in a wide range of industries. Construction surveying, planning of entire cities, maintenance of energy networks, or medical transport are just a few examples where UTM will pave the way for implementation in the future.

Your FlyNex Team


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