What We Heard at Drone Deploy Conference 2020

This week marked the annual Drone Deploy Conference and our own Dr. Joe Polastre, who participated on a panel focused on “Enabling Airspace Management for Today & the Future.” With an esteemed panel from the FAA and Commercial Drone Alliance, topics were tackled ranging from COVID’s impact on drone operations, the current state of unmanned traffic management (UTM), Remote ID and the opportunities it presents, as well as differences and similarities between U.S. approaches and those of the rest of the world.

Impact of COVID-19

While the scope of the conversation was broad, the enthusiasm for the progress we’ve made as an industry in light of the pandemic was palpable. Regarding COVID, it was clear that drones and the distancing they enable by their very nature was a positive, silver lining. Medical supply deliveries, library book drop offs, critical infrastructure inspections - all of these missions have been tackled by drones in the pandemic, showcasing a myriad of use cases and moving drones onto the frontline in times of crisis.

The team from the FAA pointed out that from November 2019 to October 2020, there was an overall net increase in first-time applications and renewal applications for Part 107 licenses. While the impact of COVID has been widespread across every corner of the FAA, they did note that on paper the impact of the pandemic on licensed operators was nill. In fact, in industries such as energy, usage of drones was said to have doubled in the pandemic.

What does the future hold for UTM?

All of the panelists were of the same mind that UTM is a big concept that will be incrementally realized for over several years, and that building blocks are being put in place now that will build upon one another to advance drone operations.

In terms of the future, much focus was put on the concept of automation to enable the safe handling of the coming growth and diversity of aircraft sharing the skies. Today’s air traffic management (ATM) relies on human-executed tasks and a safety reporting culture. How we achieve the same safety and assurance levels as increasing automation enters the system is a key question that teams like Airbus UTM are answering; after all, a primary role of UTM is to provide those controls and coordination functions.

The panelists also addressed how UTM will enable businesses to scale, pointing out that waivers and approvals right now are granted on a case-by-case basis, but the future must include broader authorizations that enable coordinated growth and access to the opportunity drone technology offers. In the future, the panelists predicted seeing even greater collaboration between the federal government and industry towards improvements.

Questions for Joe? Feel free to reach out to him at: joe.polastre@airbus-sv.com