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The Future of Airspace: UAM, UTM, and NextGen Explained

The Future of Airspace: UAM, UTM, and NextGen Explained

Unmanned systems like drones are gradually being integrated into sectors like agriculture, package delivery, and transportation. Sectors like delivery and transportation in urban areas require a large degree of deconfliction and coordination with manned aircraft for safety purposes.

The three technologies that are of primary concern in this discussion are the following:

  • Urban Air Mobility (UAM) is a cutting-edge transportation idea that aims to reduce urban traffic by employing electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft, or air taxis.

  • Unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM) is a system created to oversee and regulate the growing number of unmanned aircraft in low-altitude airspace. It involves the cooperative integration of people, data, technology, infrastructure, and services.

  • NextGen refers to the next generation of air traffic control, which integrates advanced sensing and communication technologies to pave the way for the integration of unmanned systems in the future.

Current Regulatory and Engineering Environment:

Regulatory organizations, including the FAA, are actively working on short- and long-term plans to make these technologies a reality. Programs are being developed by Airbus and other companies to safely incorporate small drones into national airspace. The FAA's UAS integration plan into the NAS is centered on safety and ensuring a seamless transition with human aircraft.

The Greatest Challenges for Integrating UAS into the NAS:

The three greatest challenges for integrating UAS and UAM into the NAS are safety, public acceptance, and regulatory hurdles. The systems must be tested and proven safe over time, including the integration with manned systems. This proven track record will assist with public acceptance. The integration of new technologies into legacy systems and coordination with government agencies may take a long time and will be the most difficult challenge.

What is DAA, and how will it affect UAS integration into the NAS?

DAA (Detect and Avoid) systems are systems that allow UAS to detect other aircraft and obstacles, sense their proximity, and take necessary actions to avoid them. DAA systems are crucial for the safe integration of UAS into the NAS, as they ensure that unmanned systems can operate without posing a risk to other aircraft.

Implications for a lost link scenario by a UAS in the NAS:

A lost link scenario, where a UAS loses its connection to its operator, poses significant safety risks. The UAS might behave unpredictably, potentially causing accidents. Most modern UAS have LOL procedures such as return to home (RTH) or hover in place. The implications of lost link become more severe when UAS become larger, carry dangerous payloads (such as hazardous herbicides), or carry people. Some mitigations include designing much more range into the system than is required, using 5G cellular connection for control, having multiple C3 systems for redundancy, automating flight paths so that a mission can continue if link is lost, or planning for a fail-safe LOL.


  • Volocopter. (n.d.). Newsroom.

  • FAA. (2023). Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM).

  • NASA. (2016). UAS Integration in the NAS.

  • FlightSafety. (2008). Detect, Sense and Avoid (Expanded Version).

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