As part of our increasing work with the aviation innovation sector I attended the annual World Air Traffic Management Congress in March in Madrid. There was a very clear focus this year on the integration of new entrants into the airspace, such as drones, as well as on new technologies to assist and augment human decision making using Artificial Intelligence (for example NATS demo of how an AI capability can simultaneously monitor 33 runway entry and exit points to help improve airport capacity in bad weather). What stands out most from last year is how blurred the lines are becoming between the different parts of air traffic management and how a solution for say commercial aircraft works just as well for other sectors and airspace users.. One of the main unanswered questions is still 'what do we mean by UTM?'. Is it 'unmanned' traffic management, specifically related to how drones are integrated into our airspace, or is it 'unified' traffic management, taking in the wider piece and pursuing a more holistic approach to the management of our skies, incorporating everything from backyard drones to commercial spaceflight activities? I certainly favour the latter.
As the community wrestles with the strategic questions, the technology develops apace, finding solutions to problems that haven't even yet been encountered, and creating countless questions along the way. Counter drone technologies abound in response to high-profile events last year, but the real drivers are to develop and refine systems and regulations that work for those who want to operate within the bounds of the law, that can be easily navigated, accessed and understood by the new and diverse aviation community. The CAA seeks to enable these developments and continue to collaborate with the international community, working with industry, for the public.
You can see more on our innovation work here: https://www.caa.co.uk/Our-work/About-us/Innovation/