The journey to building an air traffic management system for drones in the U.S. just took one more step ahead — that’s because the Federal Aviation Administration’s UTM Pilot Program Phase 2 is set to begin.
Two of the FAA’s test sites, the New York UAS Test Site at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, NY; and the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership in Blacksburg, Va. are starting UTM (UTM is short for UAS Traffic Management) tests this month under the UTM Pilot Program Phase 2.
Although the two test sites were formally selected in April 2020, live flights and component testing aren’t set to take off until this month.
The UTM Pilot Program was established under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016, with a mandate that the program define an initial set of industry and FAA capabilities required to support UTM operations. And as it turns out, there’s a lot that needs to happen before UTM systems can lift off.
Under the UTM Pilot Program, phase one began in January, with three of the FAA’s drone test sites named test partners. Those three partners were:
- Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS)
- Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS)
- Virginia Tech, Mid Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP)
Phase one focused on projects including testing capabilities such as the exchange of flight data among drone pilots, and generating an emergency “no-fly zone” for drones so emergency response aircraft can have clear skies for their operations.
As part of phase two, just two FAA test sites will participate in testing this time, but only one of them is a continuation from phase one. Virginia Tech and the Mid Atlantic Aviation Partnership, which participated in phase one, will continue on in phase two, while the Nevada and Northern Plains test sites will not continue. The New York UAS Test Site at Griffiss International Airport is the newcomer to the FAA’s UTM Pilot program.
But the New York UAS Test Site at Griffiss International Airport — which is in Rome, NY — is hardly a newcomer to drone testing, and even UTM, for that matter. More than 3,000 advanced drone test flights, including UTM tests, have been conducted at the NY UAS Test Site over the past five years. And in 2019, New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the completion of New York’s 50-mile drone corridor which stretches from the test site in Rome across the state to Syracuse. Last year, that corridor recently received Federal Aviation Administration approval to fly drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) within the first segment.