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Summer 2023 UTM drone dispatches: Israel, India and Lithuania all dive in with major progress

Last week we bombarded you with a massive post highlighting many BVLOS-related summer 2023 drone news stories into one. But the Franken-articles aren’t over this week. It’s time for some summer 2023 UTM drone dispatches.

UTM, short for unmanned traffic management, effectively refers to any sort of air traffic control system for drones. Just as the U.S. has its own air traffic controllers, most countries would have their own UTM systems. And even some individual companies are working on their own UTM systems purely to coordinate flight paths between their own fleets of drones.

But this year, there are quite simply so many companies making progress on the UTM front as of late (with many developments set to stem from them throughout the coming year), that I’ve rounded them up into one post. Here’s what you need to know about summer 2023 UTM news:

summer 2023 UTM Frequentis Oro Navigacija partnership in Lithuania
Frequentis UTM Sales Manager Roman Stickler (center, right) and Saulius Batavičius, CEO of Oro Navigacija (center, left) and the teams at the contract signing in Lithuania on May 31, 2023.

Lithuania settles on UTM solution

Lithuania isn’t exactly seen as a heavy-hitter in the drone industry, but the tiny European country in the Baltic Sea just made a big UTM decision that could significantly help drone use cases in the country grow.

That’s because Oro Navigacija, the Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) of Lithuania, recently announced that it had selected a company called Frequentis to provide its UTM solution within the Lithuanian airspace. The Frequentis UTM solution is fully compliant with U-space regulations (U-space is a term used in Europe similar to UTM that refers to a set of specific services and procedures designed to ensure safe and efficient access to airspace for a large number of drones).

The Frequentis UTM suite includes features to exchange information and shared situational awareness in real-time for air traffic controller operators and drone pilots. It will also include cloud-based UTM Airspace Manager and UTM Operation Manager applications for both pilots and drone operators to log, manage, and visualize flight plans and requests.

Frequentis builds all sorts of communication and information systems for control centers that demand safety-critical tasks, so building a UTM solution is a natural fit for the company, which has a market share of 30% in voice communication systems for air traffic control and also is considered the global leader in aeronautical information management and aeronautical message handling systems.

Frequentis is actually headquartered in Vienna, Austria, though it has about 2,100 employees spread across more than 50 countries.

The news could be big for not just Lithuania, but could also further support the Nordics and Baltics emerging drone market. In fact, Frequentis is already working closely with Norway and Estonia on their drone integration, and it has supported the Gulf of Finland in some drone trials.

Israeli UTM company FlightOps adds major European drone expert to team

Israeli-based drone organization FlightOps, which is building out a multi-drone cloud operating system designed to use UTM to scale autonomous flights (including those BVLOS), just added a major figure to its team.

Lorenzo Murzilli, an accomplished aerospace engineer who is mostly known for his role in developing EU drone regulations, U-space frameworks and the SORA methodology, joined the FlightOps advisory board in April 2023. Murzilli currently runs his own consulting group around U-space and is the co-founder of DroneTalks, an online platform created to spread ideas and educate professionals in the drone industry ecosystem.

With Murzilli’s expertise close by, the appointment could be a boon to supporting FlightOps’ mission to simplify the certification and compliance processes for drone operators and manufacturers.

While Murzilli is an advisor rather than a full-time staff member, but he’ll be there to guide the company through its existing regulatory roadmap. Right now, that primarily involves engaging with the two major airspace regulators — FAA in the U.S. and EASA in Europe — to demonstrate use cases for a BVLOS-certifiable, multi-drone, drone-agnostic operating system that is scalable for drone operations through autonomy and cloud connectivity. 

If the name FlightOps sounds familiar, that’s likely because FlightOps powers DroneUp’s drone delivery service for Walmart. It also has a fairly-significant partnership with Qualcomm to provide an automated drone operation system to first responders.

Israeli UTM company High Lander joins Global UTM Association

FlightOps isn’t the only UTM company based in Israel to watch out for. In May 2023, Israeli provider of drone fleet management and UTM software High Lander became a member of the Global UTM Association (GUTMA).

GUTMA is a Switzerland-based organization established in 2016 that promotes the development of global UTM standards and a fully-consolidated airspace, and is made up of other key members including Boeing, the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, Israel Aerospace Industries and Switzerland’s Federal Office for Civil Aviation.

You might recall GUTMA for being the organization that dropped a white paper outlining plans for the future of European UTM, which largely supported EASA (the European Union Aviation Safety Agency) in its goals to develop new flight rules, with the clarification that U-space framework should account for all traffic in the airspace, crewed or uncrewed (you can read GUTMA’s white paper here).

And with its new position (and ability to rub elbows with key players), High Lander could be in a better position to influence global standards in U-space development. High Lander is currently building a proprietary UTM solution called Universal UTM that is drone-agnostic, but that is able to monitor all airborne activity over territories of any size in real time. It autonomously approves, denies, and suggests alternative flight plans as needed to provide complete airspace coverage for businesses and government authorities.

Photo courtesy of ANRA and the India Institute of Technology Hyderabad

ANRA integrates India’s first aerial and terrestrial systems summer 2023 UTM testbed

ANRA Technologies, which builds airspace management software, this May completed a project with the Technology Innovation Hub on Autonomous Navigation (TiHAN) at the India Institute of Technology Hyderabad (IITH) to better integrate its existing drone data systems, which include drone traffic management, airspace surveillance and data fusion.

The project is set to make TiHAN more of a heavy-hitter within India as a physical site for all sorts of drone work, serving as a proving ground, test track, hangar, runway, command center and more. There, it’ll be a place to test ground control stations, drone detection systems, simulation tools, intelligent road infrastructure, environment emulators and communications.

As part of the project, TiHAN, which is recognized by the Government of India’s Department of Scientific and Industrial Research as a Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (SIRO), is also claiming to now be a testbed for both aerial and terrestrial (that means on the ground) systems.

ANRA has had a hand in all sorts of aspects of UTM. It’s separately been working on supporting a massive UTM project in Japan and a field test project with the FAA over at the New York UAS Test Site, which is one of the seven FAA-designated UAS Test Sites in the U.S and the site of New York’s 50-mile drone corridor has been the site of other drone tests including 5G networks and drone parachutes. And at the end of 2022, ANRA snagged a spot on the FAA’s Advanced Air Mobility Committee, putting it in close proximity with the top policy influencers.

This summer 2023 UTM project is also not ANRA’s first time doing major work in India. IT also served as the software provider to Swiggy, which is India’s largest online food delivery service, and that conducted its own drone delivery tests in India to customers.

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