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Overview of the National Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management Policy

Overview of the National Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management Policy

  • Introduction

In order to manage the interplay between manned and unmanned (drones) aircraft systems, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) notified the National Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management Policy Framework (UTM Policy) on October 24, 2021. The Policy comes after the much-awaited liberalised Drone Rules, 2021 and the Product-Linked Incentive scheme. The Policy regulates the architecture and mechanism of drones in “very low level” (VLL) airspace i.e., up to 1000 feet above the ground level (UTM airspace). The Policy attempts to allow identified stakeholders to connect and communicate with each other and provide situational awareness of VLL airspace to stakeholders. This policy is dynamic in nature and will evolve with technological advancements and experience.

  • Elements of the UTM Policy
  1. UTM stakeholders – The Policy envisions active collaboration between stakeholders connected through data exchange standards. It has laid down 11 key stakeholders including the public, law enforcement agencies, and air defence authority.

 

Fig 2: UTM Stakeholders

 

  1. UTM architecture – This has been designed on the lines of current aircraft traffic management services system. Within this architecture, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) shall have the authority to grant permissions and manage air traffic through automated software-based ecosystem. The UTM architecture includes the DigitalSky platform, UTM service providers, aircraft systems amongst others.

Fig 3: UTM Architecture

  1. Digital Sky Block: The Digital Sky Block is a centralised digital regulatory ecosystem. It also enables primary stakeholders of the UTM ecosystem to collaborate in real-time. It has been further divided into:

 

  1. UTM Service Provider Block (UTMSP): The UTMSP shall development technical and operational capabilities to augment functionality of the DigitalSky platform and to share relevant information within the ecosystem. It is envisioned that there would be multiple UTMSPs and that their data shall be synchronised on need-to-know basis.  For instance, UTMSP sharing information about restricted airspace with other UTMSPs.
  2. Supplementary Service Providers: These are to provide weather data, terrain data, surveillance data etc. for enhancing the safety of unmanned aircraft operations.
  3. UAS Block : This block represents different channels of information exchange between two remote pilots, two UAS, and between a remote pilot and UTMSP.
  4. Government Block : This forms the core group for license issuance, permissions, defining airspace etc.
  5. Public Block: The Policy envisages that some data on UTMSPs will be made available to general public by UTMSPs, and that general public may be allowed to report violations by UAVs to UTMSPs.
  1. UTM Services – The UTM services enable data exchange between stakeholders and connect with each other to support various functionalities. This includes – registration, constraint mapping, airspace authorization, flight planning, exemption processing, communication, health monitoring amongst others.
  2. UTM Participation – It is mandatory for both manned and unmanned aircraft systems to comply with the UTM Policy. It is mandatory for all drones/unmanned aircraft systems except Nano drones and heavy unmanned free balloons to comply with the UTM Policy. It is voluntary for manned aircrafts, small-medium unmanned free balloons, model aircraft, other flying objects such as Gliders, Paramotors etc.
  3. Real-time identification and tracking (RIT) – This shall enable drones to share their identity and location to other airspace owners. Real time tracking is important for situational awareness and tracking by law enforcement when required. It has been proposed to be done by RIT by broadcasting or by network. RIT via network has been recommended for all drones except nano drones.
    It has been necessitated that an RIT message shall include, unique identification number, location including latitude-longitude and barometric pressure, timestamp, intent information and emergency status.
  4. Data communication, security and privacy – The UTM Policy has mandated UTM Service Providers (UTMSPs) to implement data privacy and security mechanisms. The Policy requires the Central Government to implement specific cyber security standards and IT audit mechanisms for UTMSPs.
  5. Integration of UTM and Aircraft Traffic Management (ATM) – To ensure that the transition of manned aircraft into UTM space and vice-versa is seamless, it is necessary to have mutually interoperable UTM and ATM systems. The UTM Policy supports the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) guidance document on “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management- A Common Framework with Core Principles for Global Harmonization Ed. 2” and intends to align with the ICAO framework.
  6. UTM deployment Plan – Different airspaces have different UTM requirements owing to varying geographical locations, types of UAS operations, and requirements of business cases. Keeping these factors in sight, the UTM Policy relies on the hybrid model for enabling UTMSPs in a phased manner. In hybrid strategy, multiple UTMSPs are allowed to manage the same airspace to avoid a single point of failure. At the same time, it allows smaller UTMSPs to manage special/segregated unmanned aircraft operations.
    Hybrid deployment model allows flexibility to manage airspaces subject to compliance with technical requirements, safety and business standards.
  7. UTM service charges: The Policy lays down models for UTMSPs service charges. These services include technical infrastructure, deployment of complex software services and partner with supplementary service providers to provide UTM services to manufacturers, traders, importers etc. To charge the users for such services, the policy has recommended three indicative models – subscription-based model, pay-per-use model, and hybrid model.

As mentioned above, the Policy framework is expected to be ever-evolving, and the Central Government shall be publishing a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEOI) for UTM experiments. These experiments will be outcome-based and participating UTMSPs shall be proposing recommendations per the RFEOI requirements. It is expected that these UTM experiments shall enable establishing standard and non-standard unmanned aircraft operational scenarios pertaining to UTM systems, minimum standards for various classes and categories of unmanned aircraft etc. It remains to be seen how the UTM experiment shall be operationalised.

If you have any implementable insights or feedback on the policy framework, write to apurva@nasscom.in.

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