Volume 01 | Issue 06 | July 13, 2020
UTM and Space: FAA's Expanding Airspace Purview

In the past few years, aerospace has become a sector full of entrepreneurial activity, seemingly ripe for continued digitalization, disruption and perhaps significant market expansion.

More recently, the global pandemic has threatened the industry like never before. The impact of COVID-19 on aerospace will be felt for generations, but in some ways as an accelerant, creating crises and opportunities in equal fashion. Only time — and perhaps good reporting — will tell.

Moving forward, our coverage of these sweeping changes will center on eight trends we see as defining the Future of Aerospace:

TREND 1: Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence — The global artificial intelligence arms race is off and running, in both military and commercial industries. Autonomy and AI will continue to transform a variety of functions, ranging from intelligent cockpit assistants to predictive maintenance. The aerospace industry has only begun to scratch the surface in terms of the expanded adoption of these capabilities.

TREND 2: Advanced Manufacturing — Advances in the use of 3-D printing, digital twin and new design and verification technologies have already shown the ability to dramatically reduce the time it takes to go from development to entry into service of next generation aerospace technologies. Where and how these and other advance manufacturing concepts are being deployed will continue to shape the life cycle for new aircraft systems development.

TREND 3: Connectivity — An expansion of access to speedy, reliable connectivity is enabling new applications and efficiencies onboard aircraft and across flight operations. However, greater connectivity onboard aircraft and within safety-critical systems also necessitates more attention to cybersecurity with the need for new associated regulations as next generation capabilities are unlocked.

TREND 4: COVID-19 Recovery and Impact — The global pandemic brought air travel to a total halt and forced industry giants, their suppliers and operators to overhaul the way they do business. Aerospace will never be the same, but some lasting effects will be more obvious than others.

TREND 5: Electrification and Sustainability — In the past few years, tremendous progress has been made on electrifying aircraft systems, with new ‘firsts’ in flight and certification happening on a monthly basis. New propulsion technologies and government-mandated sustainability targets will play a substantial role in shaping the future of aerospace.

TREND 6: Longshots and Transformational Tech — Pure research and ‘longshots’ have always played a key role in pushing the boundaries of aviation. Here, we’ll keep you apprised of public, private and military projects exploring new technologies far from commercial readiness or operational deployment.

TREND 7: Public Policy & Privacy — Some of the upcoming changes to aerospace, such as greater use of low-altitude airspace in populated areas, will bring with them debates surrounding usage rights, privacy and where the boundaries of authority lie between local jurisdictions and national regulators.

TREND 8: Unmanned Airspace Integration — Driven by the rapid development of drone technology and the limits of human-driven traffic management, industry and regulators are working to figure out how to introduce unmanned aircraft into the airspace without jeopardizing the safety of existing actors. For regulators and manned operators, solving this challenge too quickly carries significant risks; for the drone industry, solving it too slowly is an existential threat.

Each week, we’ll report on the latest developments in a few of these trends.

This week, we’ve got a double focus on airspace integration, looking at barriers to implementation of unmanned traffic management and how the exploding commercial space launch market is necessitating an overhaul of the FAA’s regulatory approach.

Hope you enjoy.

— The Future of Aerospace Team.
Policy Inflection Point for U.S. Commercial Space Regulation
The FAA is changing its regulatory approach to how airspace is restricted and managed during commercial satellite and vehicle launches and reentries into civilian airspace, with a policy rewrite expected by September, according to a briefing by FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation Wayne Monteith.

Why this matters:
  • FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Office has regulated the commercial space industry under an informed consent and best practices structure where it regulates launches and re-entries, but does not have full authority over vehicle certification, performance and other aspects in the way the agency regulates commercial aircraft.

  • The process used by the agency for vertical and horizontal commercial space launches is cumbersome, relying on basic voice and digital communications of pertinent information between spaceports and the central air traffic system.
“In 2012, we had three launches, at the time that was about 25 employees per launch. At the rate we’re looking now, we’re having maybe two people per launch, and going to less than a single person for a launch,” Monteith said.

The major factor driving the need for changes is the sheer number of launches being sought in the United States right now:
  • The second week of June 2020 alone saw 61 satellites launched between SpaceX and Rocketlab. A single SpaceX Starlink mission launches 60 at a time.

  • Amazon has plans to launch 3,300 satellites, with SpaceX seeking authorization for up to 12,000 satellites. And these are only a few of the companies planning to significantly increase the number of satellites they have in orbit and the number of launches per year.

    Monteith: “At 30 launches a year, it’s irritating. At 300 launches a year, it’s impacting business and has the potential for safety events.”
“We’ve talked about maybe there’s a point on the commercial human spaceflight side where a certification type program makes more sense than an individual license. We’re looking at everything with an eye toward how do we enable this industry while still maintaining safety,” Monteith said. “It allows companies to have a single license for multiple launches at multiple locations, which knocks down many of those bureaucratic impediments to industry success.”

Read more on the FAA’s overhaul of commercial space regulation.
Barriers and Pitfalls to Unmanned Traffic Management
A visualization of NASA's recent TCL-4 UTM demonstrations, viewed through OneSky Systems' dashboard. (OneSky Systems)

Much of the discussion
in last week’s FAA UAS Symposium centered on UTM, or unmanned traffic management — the concept of creating an automated system that safely manages numerous drones with minimal (or no) human involvement.

Though NASA, FAA and industry have been developing technology and best practices for years, recently completing Technical Capability Level (TCL)-4 demonstrations, implementation of UTM in the United States is still years away, locked behind standards development and rulemaking for remote ID, operations over people and beyond visual line of sight flight (BVLOS) flight.

Here are some other pitfalls and problems on the road to UTM … with insightful commentary from Andrew Carter, one of the founders of ResilienX, a company working to solve some of the less-discussed problems of UTM. The FAA recently gave ResilienX and four other companies $1.6 million to create and begin testing a contingency management system at Griffiss International Airport…an award that largely went unnoticed.
  • Harmonization: FAA drone integration lead Jay Merkle voiced concerns over harmonization across borders and ensuring that regulatory and technology approaches are similar around the world. Failure to do so will prevent best safety practices from being adopted globally and threaten industry’s ability to develop/sell/operate in many nations simultaneously.

    To combat this, the FAA signed a broad-ranging agreement to work with Switzerland’s Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) on research and development of drone safety standards. More on that, here.

  • Risk Assessment: The idea of UTM is a risk mitigation system that exists outside of an aircraft and its operator, incorporating things like strategic deconfliction and an ecosystem of sensors and data to augment safety mechanisms built into the drone itself and its associated operational plan.

    But regulators, in many cases, haven’t figured out how to incorporate risk mitigation provided by UTM into their quantification of risk.

    Carter: “The FAA opened up an avenue to address this in version 2 of their UTM CONOPS through a concept of Performance Authorizations. Until operators can take advantage UTM as a quantified risk mitigation, complex UAS operations will not be done at scale.”

  • Fault detection and mitigation: Very little work has been done to date on this outside of drone malfunctions. Fault scenarios stemming from bad data, cyberattacks, weather and other elements of the larger system of systems need to be identified, mitigated and given contingency plans in order for drone operations to scale.

    Carter: “Without an understanding of what can go wrong, how to detect it when it does, and what to do about it, the UTM ecosystem is missing many traits that are often considered in safety critical system of systems.”

  • Remote ID: Still on track for December of this year, the FAA’s final rulemaking for drone remote ID will be a critical piece of the UTM puzzle, as without it, nothing else is enforceable.

    But it could have been so much more. Early on, the FAA decided to limit the scope of intent for remote ID as a system solely for broadcasting identification — not for real-time tracking. A few members of the FAA’s Remote ID Cohort, tasked with defining and building the technology behind the system, are against (mainly for privacy reasons) a more robust remote ID that could enable UAS-to-UAS detect-and-avoid.

    Carter: “Many of the organizations developing technology around Remote ID are developing it with some concept of DAA in mind. Unfortunately, since that was not the intent, much of the work around what performance requirements would be needed for the technology to be dual use has not been completed. This leaves the industry in a continual R&D state where things are not being operationalized, scaled, and commercialized.”
For regulators and existing aerospace players, the integration of drones is an interesting problem with massive safety risks that cannot be approached too cautiously.

For the drone industry, time is a finite resource. The longer it takes to enable BVLOS, UTM and operations at scale, the more drone companies go bankrupt.

At the moment, UTM in the United States is envisioned as a system only for airspace below 400 ft. A few side comments made by FAA officials make it clear they intend to eventually migrate elements of the system to the rest of the airspace.
Thank you for reading the Future of Aerospace, brought to you by Avionics International.

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