Drones and sustainable ATM. Two key topics of Airspace World and of course our industry overall.  Benjamin Binet, VP Strategy, Airspace Mobility Solutions, shared with us the latest drone and sustainable ATM concepts they were highlighting at the show. 

Beginning with the question of how do we manage aircraft without a pilot? We need surveillance, situational awareness and partnerships. The goal is to detect drones you know about and drones you don’t know about and then determine what the next steps are. During the event, an MOU with Drone XDR was announced to provide an integrated solution for drone detection. Drone XTR is a French start-up which has been developing electronic signal detection capabilities, enabling the detection of most signal-emitting UAVs. Linked with ThalesTopSky, users will be able to discriminate between authorised and unauthorised flights and also locate the pilot if needed.

This solution would be appealing to both ANSPs and airports. Thales is working Airservices Australia on a trial for drone detection services that has been extended one year with a view towards deployment following the trial. As the Paris Olympics are approaching the topic of detecting drones and resolving potential issues has come to light with an anti-drone program which is being led by Thales.

Additionally, a second MOU with AstraATM was signed during the show focused on a joint UTM solution. The partnership will focus on providing UTM capabilities and solutions including drone and pilot registration, flight planning, in-flight monitoring, situational awareness and deconfliction. They will also look to further opportunities for ATM/UTM integration in support of ANSPs globally.

Next we discussed UTM via Thales’ TopSky UAS airspace manager and ScaleFlyt remote identification tracker highlighting its success in reducing the number of drone mission requests that need to have manual review tenfold. This is the direction we need to be moving in as the number of drones increase as the time will come, in the not too distant future, that the magnitude of flight requests exceeds the capability of human reviews. There needs to be more automation in this process. One common theme heard through the meetings in Geneva was the urgent need for regulation to allow for U-space implementation. Drone mission planning needs to incorporate ground risk and an overall source of truth for everyone to operate from the perspective.

Sustainability ATM is an ongoing priority in our industry and a key topic throughout presentations last week. Thales shared some of the programmes they are working on in order to make an impact. MVP trials are underway with ANSPs (DSNA), airlines (Air France, Etihad) and airports (Changi) to reduce the current air traffic control constraints to reduce the environmental footprint of aviation. ANSP operations, ATC and airline pilots all need to work together to accomplish these goals. Examples of recommendations to improve sustainability include ways to reduce holding times or fly at higher altitudes. Thales provides two tools for use identifying options for improvement and measuring the actual outcome – Flight Footprint and ATM Footprint. The former considers CO2, non-CO2 and fuel consumption. This has been tested in Singapore using digital twin technology to simulate the impacts.   

All in all, we found a lot of great things happening in the Thales stand showcasing these topics, but also their work with startups. The future, especially in UTM, is coming from startups. New ideas and new solutions - its great to see a large organisation like Thales working to develop partnerships to incorporate the value of these startups into larger solutions and leverage their long standing experience to bring these new ideas into wider use.