Air Traffic Management recently had the opportunity to speak with Anthony Spouncer, Inmarsat’s Senior Director of UAVs and Unmanned Traffic Management to learn more about the role of the Velaris solution in supporting the expansion of UAVs. The organisation recently announced how this connectivity solution could be a part of this industry growth.

Inmarsat will work with terminal manufacturers who develop the communications equipment that needs to be resident in the drone. The emphasis needs to not only be on the cost and power usage of this device, but also the weight. The smaller the form factor the better.

During our discussion we looked at the different markets that would be targets for UAV communications solutions.  Cargo delivery and inspection/surveillance providers are an obvious market to address. These are large scale organisations who need to manage a sizable number of drones. We could also see eVtol play a role in cargo delivery. Along with Pipistrel electronic aircraft growth in support of green initiatives. Military drones don’t have the level of concern as commercial drones. They are not as budget and weight restricted and don’t fly in mixed airspace.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the industry around the use of telecommunications connectivity to communicate with drones. The issue is that LTE services don’t reach high enough to support these larger drones, so they aren’t a fit as a stand-alone. Although as a complementary solution to satellite, this would allow more options to be offered to different types of drones services companies.

Security also comes to mind when considering communications with UAVs. Lessons learned from commercial aviation play a role, although this market has evolved over time. Security was something that was added as new concerns and technology evolved. Whereas the pace at which the UAV market is accelerating is driving a lot of functionality to be developed from scratch at a very fast pace. Related to security in drones, this should be considered as ‘security by design’ vs. traditional security. In other words, to align the security requirements with the actual function vs a one size fits all approach. Different levels of security for different markets.

Where does Inmarsat go from here related to UAVs? Three topics are currently in testing:

  • UAV security services
  • Safety-grade command and control services
  • ATM – pilot voice services.

These topics will help to move UTM and ATM closer together by being able to identify the location and flight plan of drones in order to support deconfliction.