Drones a step closer to air traffic control integration

A partnership between big hitters in aviation and the UAV world is paving the way for safer skies.

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An ongoing partnership between Raytheon Company and AirMap, a global airspace intelligence platform for drones, is paving the way to integrate drones into the national air traffic control system. We've been following the developments since summer

The companies have just announced a working proof of concept for such a system.

Specifically, teams have integrated AirMap's unmanned aerial systems (UAS) monitoring capabilities onto a working prototype of Raytheon's newest air traffic controller workstation, called, awkwardly, Multi-platform ATC Re-hosting Solution, or MARS.

"When drones fly in controlled airspace, they're sharing the skies with many other types of aircraft," said Matt Gilligan, vice president of Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services. "Air traffic controllers need real-time airspace awareness and alerts to unusual drone activity; it's a key step on the path toward safe drone integration into the national airspace system."

It's also a key step in making commercial drones viable at scale. The FAA, which has been very considered about the question of permitting commercial drones beyond line of sight, may require air space monitoring integration as a critical first step.

In the virtual demonstration, according to Raytheon, the AirMap technology alerts the air traffic controller at the MARS terminal of a drone exhibiting unusual or non-conforming flight behavior within the controlled airspace surrounding a major airport. In a real-life scenario, that would permit the controller to take appropriate action with regards to inbound and outbound flights.

"Air traffic controllers, as well as UAS operators and manned aircraft pilots, need situational awareness," said Ben Marcus, Chairman and Co-founder of AirMap. "With Raytheon, we're working to optimize how controllers can be armed with information about UAS without burdensome increases in workload."

The MARS virtual demo was on display recently at the 2019 Annual Conference of the Air Traffic Control Association in Washington, D.C.