The race to add drones to nationwide air traffic control system

AirMap, which oversees a version of air traffic control for drones, to collaborate on the national airspace integration.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Raytheon, which develops the technology used by air traffic controllers to coordinate national airspace, has signed a strategic pact with a company that oversees the largest unmanned aerial systems (UAS) tracking network in the U.S. The objective: To quickly and safely integrate drones into national airspace monitoring technology. 

Currently, the technology used to keep track of commercial and military aircraft does not account for drone traffic. In the U.S., non-military drones are not integrated into a nationwide air traffic management system except under voluntary programs.

By contrast, Raytheon's Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) is used by air traffic controllers across the U.S. to provide safe and efficient aircraft spacing and sequencing guidance for more than 40,000 departing and arriving aircraft daily at both civilian and military airports. The new partnership will see Raytheon teaming up with AirMap, which provides airspace intelligence for UAS operations and has over 250,000 registered users. 

AirMap has been aggressively lobbying for a comprehensive drone aerial management service. Its technology ID's individual drones, enabling tracking and paving the way for the kind of nationwide net used to monitor commercial and military aircraft.

Working together, Raytheon and AirMap are hoping to develop solutions to provide a complete, real-time view of manned and unmanned flights in U.S. airspace, helping allay rising fears that increasing drone traffic is putting the national air transportation network at grave risk. There have already been a handful of verified aircraft collisions with drones, and several more near-misses, raising awareness of the growing problem.

"AirMap is ushering in a new era in drone aviation," said Matt Gilligan, vice president of Raytheon's Intelligence, Information and Services business. "Drones must safely operate in an already complex ecosystem, which is where our experience matters."

AirMap has been smart in playing the long game with its air management and tracking technology. The company sells a technology stack that can connect the world's drones to airspace authorities through an open platform of APIs and SDKs that integrate with hardware from top drone manufacturers, including 3DR, DJI, DroneDeploy, Intel, Matternet, and senseFly. 

So far the company's drone operations systems have been deployed in the Czech Republic, Japan, Switzerland, and the United States. The company has adopted a strategy of working closely with local authorities and pilot programs as government agencies in the U.S. and abroad race to catch up with drone technology with effective regulation. For example, AirMap is working with NASA UTM, the European Network of U-space Demonstrators, and the U.S. UAS Integration Pilot Programs

With $43.6 million so far in funding, it is working to position itself as the air traffic management technology provider of the future for UAS. The partnership with Raytheon and close work the FAA reinforces that position.

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