The New York unmanned aircraft system (UAS) traffic management (UTM) corridor, managed by the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research (NUIAR) Alliance is a first of its kind, and the most advanced drone testing corridor in the nation. It will enable companies to test both UAS platforms and technologies in real-world settings, generating data that will inform industry and regulators and advance the commercial use of drones, according to Major General Marke F. “Hoot” Gibson (ret), chief executive officer of the NUAIR Alliance.
The UTM corridor enables various use cases such as drone deliveries, infrastructure monitoring, search and rescue, and precision agriculture. Initially, the corridor operation will focus on enabling 55 lb. and below BVLOS small UAS (sUAS) operations. However, the corridor also will support urban mobility and other developments including electric/hybrid vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft systems to carry people and property in air transportation, including commercial fleet operations with highly automated UAS.
“Our corridor coverage will include low altitude – 500 feet and down – in a defined 50-mile corridor from Rome and Syracuse all the way up to Oswego,” Gibson explained. “To provide safety and security for the testers, we’ve asked that the radar picture cover up to and laterally to 5,000 feet to provide warning of any non-participant in the area. It’s not truly restricted airspace, but it’s an area we can kind of sanitize to protect nonparticipants and participants from each other.
“We also are preparing for urban mobility, which is the next thing on the horizon. Those, I think, will be operating around 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 feet,” Gibson said. “Because we are working with Raytheon to cover up to 5,000 feet, we’re already going to be having the coverage we need in that area once we go active, so, once the UTM is complete, it will offer a number of other kinds of testing that I anticipate the industry will grow towards.”
Gibson explained that the UTM corridor isn’t monolithic, nor in a single dimension, and that NUAIR is working through the concept of operations to segment the airspace in numerous ways, including geographically, as well as left to right.
“We may have Alpha, Bravo, Charlie areas that we can isolate, so folks can test on one set of the range and another client can be on the other end of the range and we can run that simultaneously,” Gibson explained. “We want to be able to tailor what their needs are throughout the range once we divide it up and see how were going to manage it. It’s going to be an ecosystem, and we are starting by building in a surveillance picture. Once the radar is fully functioning, we will be able to surveil the vehicles that are testing and provide ground truth as to where they are. It also will provide a sanitized area around the testers to provide a buffer against non-participants, so safety is enhanced.”
Raytheon and Gryphon Sensors have received awards to complete the UTM corridor through system planning, design, implementation, commissioning, and operational support of a state-of-the-art UTM research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) infrastructure.
“UASs are playing an increasingly significant role in our society, which means we must have low-altitude air traffic management solutions,” said Matt Gilligan, vice president of Raytheon’s Navigation, Weather and Services mission area. “The New York airspace corridor is the first-of-its-kind, but it won’t be the last.”
According to Gibson, the UTM corridor is a huge opportunity to explore how UAS will change air traffic and plan ways to support air traffic safety. Drones have been in the military for at least a decade, but the commercial space is relatively new.
“I came from the Air Force, and we’ve been doing this since Bosnia, so we were adept at integrating our unmanned system with our manned. However, you must remember that we accept a great deal of risks, because were pushed by an adversary. If we don’t take risks, someone gets hurt,” Gibson explained. “When you move to the commercial realm, which is a little slow to change and on the other end of the risk curve, the mindset is that if you take risks, someone gets hurt.
“But this is the future, like it or not. Innovation like this is very difficult, so we are going to provide a large lab where we can go out and learn our lessons in a somewhat controlled environment before we go jumping into mixing apples and oranges in highly disconcerting way. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has data-driven decision making, and we will be able to provide tons of data as we operate in our test range. Not only will we have data from the corridor, but we also will have the range depicted in an LVC environment. Both will provide massive amounts of data.”
While there is no other state as actively engaged in a corridor of this type, Gibson said that he sees the New York UTM Corridor as a model for other states. In fact, he predicts that the corridor also could become a standards, testing and rating facility for the UAS industry.
“Most industries have finally had to come to some level of standardization with equipment and components and operations, and, right now, nothing like that exists in the drone industry,” he explained. “There are some parallels in larger vehicles in aviation, but there are little to none in the smaller UAS’ which evolve constantly as we know. NUAIR’s Chief Technology Officer, Andy Thurling, is working with several groups in the United States and internationally trying to figure this out, so I think we will be at the forefront of that as well.”