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.
Status of UTM Today
A Research Transition Team (RTT) has been established between the FAA, NASA and industry to coordinate the UTM initiative. Areas of focus include concept and use case development, data exchange and information architecture, communications and navigation, and sense and avoid. Research and testing will identify airspace operations requirements to enable safe visual and beyond visual line-of-sight drone flights in low-altitude airspace. Read the FAA's UAS Traffic Management Research Transition Team Plan (January 31, 2017) (PDF).
The Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) supports air traffic control authorization requirements for drone operations. Through LAANC remote pilots can apply to receive a near real-time authorization for operations under 400 feet in controlled airspace around airports.
The FAA and NASA have developed a joint UTM Research Plan to document research objectives and map out the development of UTM. NASA is conducting research at UAS Test Sites to further explore UTM capabilities that will accommodate rulemaking as it expands opportunities for drone integration. The FAA expects that UTM capabilities will be implemented incrementally over the next several years.
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.