Air traffic management (ATM) and unmanned air vehicle (UAV) industry representatives have expressed a sense of urgency for both sectors to agree on an efficient, safe unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) traffic management (UTM) concept.

Hundreds of thousands of UAS movements per year are expected by 2025 in Europe, up from the current 10,000, Matthew Baldwin, deputy director-general of the European Commission’s (EC) Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, said March 8 at the World ATM Congress here. The EC has clearly stated that it wants to create a favorable environment for the UAV industry to thrive in. Baldwin suggested 2019 as the deadline to have a UTM implemented in Europe.

Singapore also wants to be at the forefront of services delivered by drones. The sector is moving so fast that a UTM that would be built this year could be obsolete in five years, according to Kevin Shum, director-general of the Singapore Civil Aviation Authority. “But if we don’t start now, there is a risk a UTM would be irrelevant,” he added.

Registration should be a prerequisite for civil UAVs, all speakers agreed. There are already 700,000 registered UAVs  in the U.S., according to Teri Bristol, chief operating officer of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization. “But there is always a black sheep who does not register,” Shum said, insisting a solution is needed now.

"We do not believe in anonymous flying," says Sean Cassidy, Amazon Prime Air’s director for safety and regulatory affairs. He suggests a UAV should be identifiable, as a car is.For new UAV users, UTM should be made simple. “All a drone pilot wants to know is whether he or she can fly here and now,” Unifly CEO Marc Kegelaers pointed out. Belgium-based Unifly specializes in software for the integration of UAVs and manned aviation. “We will be able to provide highly automated ATM to a large number of targets” in 4–5 years, Kegelaers predicted.

A balance will have to be struck between the desire to act swiftly and the need for a single standard. On the one hand, most UAVs fly domestically; rulemaking would therefore not necessarily involve the International Civil Aviation Organization, Shum suggested. On the other hand, the issuance of a series of different standards must be avoided, in Baldwin’s view, as this “could kill the industry.”

Editor's note: This article was updated to correct the number of drones registered in the U.S. and to clarify the statement of Amazon Prime Air's Sean Cassidy.