Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM)

The FAA, NASA, other federal partner agencies, and industry are collaborating to explore concepts of operation, data exchange requirements, and a supporting framework to enable multiple beyond visual line-of-sight drone operations at low altitudes (under 400 feet above ground level (AGL)) in airspace where FAA air traffic services are not provided.

Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) is a "traffic management" ecosystem for uncontrolled operations that is separate from, but complementary to, the FAA's Air Traffic Management (ATM) system. UTM development will ultimately identify services, roles and responsibilities, information architecture, data exchange protocols, software functions, infrastructure, and performance requirements for enabling the management of low-altitude uncontrolled drone operations.

UTM Vision

UTM is how airspace will be managed to enable multiple drone operations conducted beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS), where air traffic services are not provided.

With UTM, there will be a cooperative interaction between drone operators and the FAA to determine and communicate real-time airspace status. The FAA will provide real-time constraints to the UAS operators, who are responsible for managing their operations safely within these constraints without receiving positive air traffic control services from the FAA. The primary means of communication and coordination between the FAA, drone operators, and other stakeholders is through a distributed network of highly automated systems via application programming interfaces (API), and not between pilots and air traffic controllers via voice.

  • In 2023, the FAA published the UTM Implementation Plan in response to requirements from Congress in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. This Plan addresses FAA’s efforts to make UTM a reality, specifically its near-term and long-term plans, and the gaps in policy that must be resolved to have “full operational capability” of the UTM ecosystem.

UTM Key Site Operational Evaluation

In early 2023, the FAA evaluated new industry-proposed UTM capabilities and standards in support of small UAS operations. These capabilities and standards are needed to support small UAS operations, such as package delivery, that are starting to happen more frequently and in the same areas. As these operations start to occur in overlapping areas, the risk of collision between drones increases, highlighting the need for a scalable approach to managing UA-UA conflicts. 
UTM services offer a solution by providing a means for operators to collaboratively deconflict each other, which will help enable predictable and routine BVLOS operations in the National Airspace System (NAS). Other ways of managing collision risk, such as filing and reviewing Notices to Air Missions (NOTAMs), are not effective for automated, proximate operations at a rapid operational tempo.
The UTM Key Site Operational Evaluation establishes partnerships with operators and UAS Service Suppliers (USSs), and works with suitable participants in attaining the necessary exemptions to operate BVLOS at a key site using UTM services. The FAA is also exploring how it will recognize the capabilities of USSs for the safety and efficiency benefits they provide. Data and information from operations at the key site will inform policies in the critical path to the FAA's BVLOS rulemaking, which will provide a regulatory approval path for UTM services to be used more broadly within the NAS. Key site operations will occur in Class G airspace at altitudes up to 400 feet AGL.

The FAA envisions that the operational evaluation will lead to continued operations at the key site. As this ecosystem matures, these capabilities are expected to be expanded to other locations across the country. 

Additional Information: 2023 Drone Symposium Workshop Briefing 

UTM Key Site Operational Evaluation FAQs:

Who will be developing the “federated network?” How will the network of USSs connect with each other and share data?
Industry will develop USS capabilities that adhere to consensus standards, as they have in the testing environments up to this point. FAA and NASA will ensure the availability of network components such as the Discovery and Synchronization Service (DSS) and an automated test harness.

Who is allowed to participate in the operational evaluation?
Any drone operator qualified to operate BVLOS via waivers or exemptions to 14 CFR part 91, part 107 or part 135 may choose to participate. USSs and Supplemental Data Service Providers (SDSPs) that are recognized through the FAA’s Near-Term Approval Process (NTAP) may participate.

Do operators at the key site need to be able to detect and avoid crewed aircraft?
Yes. All drone operators need a way to avoid crewed aircraft, whether they are using a USS or not. Crewed aircraft collision risk can be managed through the use of visual observers or a technical detect and avoid (DAA) system, and is evaluated by the FAA when it processes each waiver or exemption.

Will this UTM be able to support future AAM operations?
The focus of this activity is specific to drones using distributed services. Lessons learned may be applicable to future passenger- or cargo-carrying AAM operations.
 

Near-Term Approval Process (NTAP) for UTM Services

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, PL 115-254, Section 377, directed the FAA to develop a process to permit, authorize, or allow the use of UTM Services based on the service’s ability to maintain the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System, including managing risks on behalf of drone operators.  In response, the UAS Integration office developed the Near-Term Approval Process (NTAP), which is intended to expedite third-party service provider approvals. The NTAP is not a certification process. Instead, it is a process by which FAA evaluates the safety mitigation value of a service, so that operators can receive safety credit for using that service when seeking waivers or exemptions. 

The NTAP team reviews UAS Service Supplier (USS) and Supplemental Data Service Provider (SDSP) applicants that support drone operations at up to 400 feet above ground level (AGL). Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) USSs continue to be managed by the FAA Air Traffic Organization, not the NTAP process. 

Selection of an NTAP Service Provider (SP) and Champion Operator (CO) involves initial discussions with the candidates and review of their proposed concept of use (CONUSE), concept of operations (CONOPS), service level agreement (SLA), and safety risk management (SRM) plan. Once the candidates have developed their proposal and supporting documentation, the NTAP Program Manager (and other FAA stakeholders, as necessary) will evaluate the submission to ensure the operation meets the established criteria.  

Once your submission has been determined to be eligible, the next step to participate in the NTAP program is to sign an MOU with the FAA. Contact the NTAP team at aus-utm@faa.gov for more information, or to get started. 

FAA personnel will review existing materials with the service provider using the intake criteria below. Additional materials may be needed so that the FAA can conduct a Safety Risk Management (SRM) evaluation of the service. The FAA uses the NTAP Service Evaluation Matrix to ensure that sufficient materials are provided so that the FAA can fully assess the service provider’s offering. 

NTAP SELECTION CRITERIA 
Intake Criteria  Evidence of good faith effort to partner between the service provider and champion operator (e.g. executed MOU) 
Evidence of partnership or subcontract with other service providers on which the primary service provider is dependent (e.g. data providers, UI/UX providers, API providers) 
CO is technically and operationally ready to integrate with service 
SP CONUSE and CO CONOPS are drafted 
Service exists as an end-to-end prototype in a dev environment (NASA TRL 5) 
SP has a stable intended architecture (e.g. flow chart) showing information flows, data sources, and interactions 
SP and CO identify other FAA engagements and POCs 
 
SRM Phase Criteria  SP CONUSE, CO CONOPS, and SLA are complete 
Service is deployed using live data for champion operator integration (dev, staging or prod environment) 
Service may conform to a software design standard 
Service provider documentation includes requirements traceability matrix (RTM) 
Service provider has safety and quality systems in place 

References

Last updated: Wednesday, January 24, 2024