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Working together: air traffic management and drones

2 December 2016

Once again drones will be one of the most popular gifts this festive season. And beyond enthusiasts and hobbyists, demand and applications for drone technology are growing rapidly. From parcel delivery, agriculture and even emergency response, drones are an increasingly essential feature of modern life – and welcoming them into the ATM family is a priority for ensuring safe and efficient operations.

The integration of larger, more complex remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) into non-segregated airspace is already a critical component of effective ATM worldwide. To account for recent technological developments, CANSO has extended its focus to small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones.  

Given their rising prominence in airspace, the recent DFS Technology Conference 2016 was a timely opportunity to focus on drones and how the ATM community is approaching these new entrants to airspace.

Highlighting how drone parcel delivery is becoming a reality in Germany, while defibrillator-equipped drones are helping to improve emergency response and save lives, conference delegates discussed the latest information and thought-leadership on drones, be it technological, operational, commercial or regulatory.

Bridging the gap between manned and unmanned aviation

Speaking to a delegation of international aviation experts, CANSO Director General, Jeff Poole, sat alongside the CEO of DFS, Klaus-Dieter Scheurle, and the COO of the FAA Air Traffic Organization, Teri Bristol, and applauded the strong commitment of air navigation service providers (ANSPs) to facilitate the safe, fair and efficient integration of drones into ATM operations and bridge the gap between manned and unmanned aviation.

The participants all recognised safety as an essential prerequisite for the success of the drone industry and the conference concluded there is an urgent need to develop a robust and harmonised regulatory framework that facilitates the safe integration of drones with global ATM.

The full potential of drones has yet to be fully appreciated, but with further research, development, and implementation of activities or concepts like the unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM), there will almost certainly be very strong and rapid growth.

Collaboration opens invaluable opportunities

Traffic management for drones will need higher levels of automation, not only because of the expected high number of drone operations but also the different performance characteristics, missions, flightduration and technology of the drones, alongside the significant amount of traffic in the low altitude sector away from airports.  

CANSO Director General, Jeff Poole, stressed that UTM could not be developed in isolation from the existing air navigation services (ANS) system and encouraged ANSPs  and organisations developing UTM functions to work together to ensure common understanding of UTM, how it will work and how it can most effectively and safely co-exist with ATM.

This collaboration opens invaluable opportunities for manned and unmanned communities to collaborate and learn from each other and ultimately create a cooperative approach to UTM and ATM more broadly. Research on UTM could also be used by ANSPs as a test bed for future ATM concepts and it would allow ANSPs to access ‘out of the box’ thinking.

CANSO is working hard to foster this relationship, and through its RPAS and Collaborative Airspace Workgroup, is developing advice and guidance on integrating RPAS and drones into ATM. This is vital work, the benefits of which will be felt throughout the aviation value chain.

To find out more about CANSO’s approach to UAS and to read Jeff Poole’s speech in full, please click here.



  • Conferences
  • RPAS

About the author

Doug Davis Director of Airworthiness, Northrop Grumman and CANSO RPAS and Collaborative Airspace Workgroup co-chair

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