The FAA Has Completed Its UTM Testing—Now What?


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Toward the end of 2020, the FAA completed Phase 2 of its UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) testing.

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This was the most complex level of testing it had ever conducted, and it was also the final phase of testing for its UTM Pilot Program (UPP).

The FAA’s completion of its UTM testing is not just the culmination of that organization’s work, but also of work originally started by NASA.

Before the FAA did its two phases of testing, NASA went through four different Technical Capability Levels, each of which had associated tests and demonstrations. This work started in 2016 and was handed off to the FAA in 2019, after three years of hard work.

So now that the testing has been completed, what's next for UTM?

Read today's post for a reflection on what we might expect for the future of UTM in the U.S., including some thoughts on how UTM's rollout could impact both hobbyist and commercial drone pilots alike.

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@Dave PitmanI tried to be more mindful of incorporating the drone service provider's perspective in this piece (it's in the last section of the article, titled 'The Implications of UTM for Drone Service Providers'). Please let me know if you end up reading it, would love to hear your thoughts if you have the time to share them.

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This is well written.

Do you know why pilots don't have to pay for weather briefings, file flight plans, or VFR flight following?  For a couple of reasons.  First the FAA is a federally funded agency so our tax dollars have already paid for those services and two because if pilots had to pay, they wouldn't.  They'd fly without a briefing or flight following, and they'd scud run  around the weather to avoid the fees, all creating an unsafe environment.

So those three big blue "Commercial Service Providers" situated firmly between the FAA and the operators, how do they make money?  Who funds the development of their services?  Does the FAA contract with them to provide services? You correctly mentioned the concerns of the "dronepreneurs" that concern is shared by medium to large companies too.  The result result of user fees will be that people won't pay them and fly anyway, and that's probably the real reason for RID.  

Finally the other thing that people don't seem to want to talk about is that most of the NASA UTM tests were conducted in highly controlled environments and even then they barely worked.  Its been a year since we deployed a bunch of teams to Northern California to scan distribution towers, I doubt that much has changed since.  There were large sections of California that didn't have cell or wifi access to the web.  I seriously don't know what these guys are smoking but if the internet is a part of the UTM and RID requirements it's not going to work.

 

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7 hours ago, Av8Chuck said:

There were large sections of California that didn't have cell or wifi access to the web.  I seriously don't know what these guys are smoking but if the internet is a part of the UTM and RID requirements it's not going to work.

Absolutely.  Currently many, many kids can not "log in" to receive schooling.  Having blanket connectivity for UAS is way down the priority ladder.

Folks are still funding AirMap?  Bummer. Is that post from Twitter? I don't see it on their account.

 

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I think it is from Twitter. I’m guessing after the dust up this caused they took it down. I had to find it on LinkedIn, people had posted it as part of a couple of conversations. 

People were really upset by this which I found odd. It’s amazing to me how people bury their heads in the sand and then react when one of those “blue squares” puts it in writing. People got mad at me for pointing out that this had been discussed for years and is pretty much common knowledge.  I guess they want to believe so much that UTM is all about safety and opening up the commercial UAS industry.  It’s not, it’s about money, control and restricting the UAS industry.  People will still refuse to believe it yet there it is straight from the horses mouth.  

Here’s another example.  Why do we need LAANC?  Why not just publish the altitude restrictions on the sectional?  It’s not like those altitudes will change and if they need to they can post different restrictions on a NOTAM the way they do for pilots.  
 

 


 


 

 

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23 minutes ago, Av8Chuck said:

People were really upset by this which I found odd. It’s amazing to me how people bury their heads in the sand and then react when one of those “blue squares” puts it in writing. People got mad at me for pointing out that this had been discussed for years and is pretty much common knowledge.  I guess they want to believe so much that UTM is all about safety and opening up the commercial UAS industry.  It’s not, it’s about money, control and restricting the UAS industry.  People will still refuse to believe it yet there it is straight from the horses mouth.  

Here’s another example.  Why do we need LAANC?  Why not just publish the altitude restrictions on the sectional?  It’s not like those altitudes will change and if they need to they can post different restrictions on a NOTAM the way they do for pilots.  

Absolutely agree with all of this.  Anytime AirMap comes up in a discussion I always try to inform about their mission and guys are usually surprised and have no clue.  Once in awhile they slip up and state their mission, like in that tweet.

Regarding LAANC, absolutely.  It makes no sense other than yet another example of the FAA's lack of confidence in their own standards of Remote Pilot certification, which links us to the other discussion we were having.  If the FAA would simply require a higher standard of competence for the RP certificate, they could eliminate all of the micro managing and waiver mess and simply state the regulation and move on.  UTM will be a mess.  But I am getting older and probably/hopefully will not be involved in it.

Edited by Dave Pitman
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Confirming that AirMap deleted that post after it created a lot of backlash for them. @Dave Pitman you're right, I think that was definitely them slipping up and stating their true mission. @Av8Chuck, had no idea NASA's UTM testing was so shaky. Can you share some links to where you read/heard about that? Would be curious to read up on it.

Dave did a good job a while back checking me when I was writing about UTM and really just adopting an industry perspective without thinking about how its rollout could impact drone service providers/individual operators (hobbyists too, for that matter).

Hope I'm doing a better job now—I want to write 'the facts' (what the FAA/industry reps are saying and what it seems like is happening on the testing front) but I'm trying to do better at considering whom will be impacted and what that impact might look like. Thanks for keeping me honest Dave and Chuck, know I can always count on you to share your frank thoughts. :)

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Hi @Zacc Dukowitz no worries, anything I can do to help.  

Regarding the UTM, we now have two CRADA's with the Navy and our principle investigator is also part of the NASA committee for UTM so I've heard a lot about what works and what doesn't. Interestingly, as I've heard some of this Patrick Eagan has reported on the same issues.  Not exactly the same way that I hear it but he must also know someone who is a part of the UTM testing. 

You know the expression "Follow the Money."  There's a lot being said about UTM but there was very little public debate on was it necessary in the first place.  It was all attributed to "safety" which pretty much quelled any rational debate.  I mean, who would be against safety?

When you look back on what I call "The Summer of 2017" when the FAA issued "guidelines" of how they "literally" control everything from the grass in your backyard to FL65 which meant that you couldn't fly in your own backyard, not even a kite.  Then they had to issue more guidelines defining a kite and how it wasn't included.  Really?

 Not that these laws mean anything, but its against the law for the FAA to regulate commerce, so if you follow the money are they breaking any laws if they turn to a "Public/Private partnership" (The three blue blocks in your diagram) to accomplish this for them?  I would argue that it is but I'm not an attorney.  I would also argue that's it a conflict of interest if any of the money collected for user fees as part of the UTM could not be used to fund any part of the FAA.  People justify drone registration because its only $5, that's to the registrant.  The FAA has taken in almost $9M.  Where did that money go and where is it being spent?  How is the FAA being held accountable for such a sizable amount of money.   

How much is UTM going to cost to deploy?  Who decided it was necessary?  Why do we need LAANC? Who, if anyone, made the case for UTM?  Everyone who has a financial stake in its development that's who, but the statistics don't warrant it. 

   

    

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4 hours ago, Av8Chuck said:

Who decided it was necessary?  Why do we need LAANC? Who, if anyone, made the case for UTM?  Everyone who has a financial stake in its development that's who, but the statistics don't warrant it. 

Funny Chuck, before I got to your last paragraph, I was already thinking about how AirMap, and others, came up with a grand scheme, sucked in some like-minded VC $$, hired some lobbyists and  went about fabricating a problem for which they would be paid to provide a solution.  And, walah!  the UTM idea was born. 

It's an amazing idea.  Record all of the uas operation "meta data" in the entire country and store it.  Then, if something goes wrong, the "recording" can be queried to try and find out what happened and who is responsible.  The model has already been proven by the NSA.  UTM aims to take it even further.  At least with PRISM, all of the tax payers got to chip in.  With UTM, a much smaller contingent has to pay for it.

The FAA keeps harping on the need for UTM to enable mass BVLOS operation.  But they don't want to discuss the novel idea that only those operating mass BVLOS, thus requiring some way to assign accountability, are the ones that need a plan and will need to pay for it.  The problem for AirMap with this idea is that Boeing, Amazon, UPS, fill in the blank, will administer their own programs with no need of AirMap.  AirMap needs those that cannot build the infrastructure on their own to pay them.

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@Av8Chuckthat's really interesting re: your professional experience w/ UTM. Sounds like you're privy to some information our readers would love to hear about . . . would you possibly be open to sharing some of what you know for an article on the realities of UTM? I could say 'an anonymous source' if you preferred it, and of course you could vet it before we published. Curious to hear your thoughts, and thanks for considering it.

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I’m happy to discuss what that might look like.  Have you heard the saying “don’t crap where you eat?”  

I have to be sensitive to any information that I put out there and how it might effect the people we're working with. 

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Thanks Chuck! Totally get it re: needing to tread lightly. Maybe we can set up 30 minutes to chat, and you'd get final review of what gets written about or shared, if anything.

Shoot me an email me Zacc[at]UAVCoach[dot]com and we can find some time to talk. Hope you have a great weekend. :)

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