airUTM - airUTM (Unmanned Traffic Management)

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Objectives of the service

Image credit: ukowapi UG, Project: airUTM

airUTM is an Unmanned Traffic Management system that allows safe, efficient and secure access to airspace for large numbers of drones. Drone operators need to file daily flight plans as part of their operation procedure. These flight plans are reviewed and approved by CAA. Currently, DCA Malawi uses emails and a WhatsApp group to communicate with drone operators in Malawian airspace. These flight plans are shared in a WhatsApp group which also comprises of manned aircraft pending approval by Air Traffic Control (ATC).

Communication via WhatsApp/ email is an interim solution. However, the main challenge of such analog communication is the lack of situational awareness. Flight plans submitted in this manner are usually in text format, therefore relevant flight information cannot be transmitted. The current solution can be improved by developing a digital system delivering a set of automated functions, services and procedures to ensure safe and secure aircraft operations in a specific volume of airspace. airUTM is a framework designed to facilitate any kind of routine mission, in all classes of airspace and environment while addressing an appropriate interface with manned aviation and air traffic control. 

Users and their needs

The main users/ customers are:

  • BVLOS drone operators,
  • VLOS drone operators,
  • CAA (Civil Aviation Authorities)
  • Humanitarian Aid Organizations Such as UNICEF, GIZ and different NGOs
  • Drone hobbyists/ enthusiasts.

Drone operators are required to file daily flight plans as part of their operation procedures. These flight plans are reviewed and approved by CAA daily. This forms the basis of drone regulations issued by CAA.

CAA requires that all drones are registered and authorized to fly. CAA ensures adherence to drone regulations by monitoring drone operations, approving flight plans and defining restricted airspace.

Humanitarian aid organizations conduct various drone operations i.e. mapping, emergency response, cargo delivery, etc. As airspace users these organizations also need to comply with drone regulations to ensure safety.

Drone hobbyists require access to accurate weather information and other relevant flight data. Before each flight, hobbyists need to know when and where it is safe to fly.

Service/ system concept

Figure 1. The schematic diagram of airUTM application/ service

airUTM will have the following outputs:

  • Weather information
  • Situational awareness of airspace
  • E-registration, e-identification and geofencing
  • Flight plan review and approval
  • Relevant information and data flow

Key aspects of the airUTM system architecture are:

  • Cloud-computing
  • API integration
  • Open platform development

Space Added Value

The space assets that are implemented for airUTM are:

  • SatNav: airUTM offers location-based services using real time geo data to accurately display GPS/Galileo data for tracking and displaying precise location of drones. We intend to use both GPS and Galileo according to the user requirements of the system.
  • SatEO: airUTM uses Earth Observation to access satellite images of the earth’s surface in form of digital maps. Images from Sentinel-2 satellites is used, because of the high spatial resolution of 10 m – 60 m as well as the free and open data policy.

Current Status

The project is currently in the user/ customer engagement phase in order to define service requirements:

  • We are conducting consultations with key stakeholders (Department of Civil Aviation Malawi, BVLOS & VLOS drone operators, drone hobbyists and humanitarian aid organisations) are ongoing and in-person meetings/ interviews are taking place in Malawi.
  • We are extracting user/ service requirements during a scoping visit to the Humanitarian Drone Testing Corridor in Kasungu District, Malawi in November 2020.  This activity is being done as part of the Drone & Data Aid project in close collaboration with the main sponsors GIZ, UNICEF Malawi and Wingcopter. 

Status Date

Updated: 27 November 2020 - Created: 27 November 2020