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UAV airspace management system readies for release

Belgian company Unifly is poised to launch an airspace management system for unmanned air vehicles that informs users where they can legally and safely operate their aircraft.

SkyBridge incorporates data feeds from open sources including NOTAMs, local airspace regulations and historical data, to provide UAV operators with a map of permitted airspace.

A cloud-based system focused on low-level flying, SkyBridge also features the self-separation requirements of each national aviation authority so that an operator knows how close their UAV can get to certain structures.

“There is a new party in the ATM structure that is important,” Jurgen Verstaen, chief business development officer for Unifly, told the SkyTech conference in London on 27 January. “We need to have a system right now and we can’t wait for an incident to happen before we do.”

Verstaen says that the company wants to certify the system as soon as possible, and potential customers do not want to wait the anticipated two to three years it will take to gain approval.

“We don’t want to have to wait until 2019,” he says. “We’ve spoken to different civil aviation authorities, and we know they want it now – we hope it will take a year.”

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SkyBridge can also act as a registration system for users and their UAVs, Verstaen says, and law enforcement agencies are interested in using it to verify the identities of pilots and their flight approvals. Emergency services can also use it to enforce temporary “no drone zones” over accident sites.

The company has also been contracted to provide some its technology under the second phase of NASA’s UAS Traffic Management (UTM) programme. UTM aims to incorporate low-flying UAVs into the national ATM system by 2030 through a series of phases that will ultimately allow for beyond-line-of-sight operations alongside manned aircraft.

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