Airbus, Boeing Push Vision Of Integrated Airspace Management

Airbus and Boeing foresee a period of convergence between UTM and ATM to create a unified and integrated system.
Credit: Airbus & Boeing

Following a call to action from Airbus and Boeing, an advisory group under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is bringing together stakeholders to develop a global vision for future integrated air traffic management that meets the needs of all existing and emerging airspace users.

The companies expect concepts developed for unmanned traffic management (UTM) to play a key enabling role in the evolution of air traffic management (ATM) into a unified or integrated system enabling safe and efficient aircraft access for all users from the surface to the stratosphere.

As airspace use expands beyond conventional fixed- and rotary-wing aviation to encompass drones, urban air taxis, autonomous vehicles, high-altitude pseudo-satellites, high-speed transports and space vehicles, ATM will have to evolve to enable access and ensure safety and efficiency.

“We see UTM as a key enabler, and it has to be a priority. Otherwise we will have a quick push for the development of these vehicles, but the airspace will not be ready to absorb them,” Isabel Del Pozo de Poza, Airbus vice president and head of UTM, said in early August. She took part in a joint presentation with Boeing during the Electric Aircraft Technologies Symposium (EATS). 

“UTM in our view is the common foundation from which the evolution of UTM capabilities and progressive transition into the existing ATM system will be based,” Mildred Troegler, director of global regulatory strategy at Boeing, said during the virtual EATS. It was organized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

“Boeing and Airbus envisage a long-term future for aviation that is a single integrated airspace management system, and this system stretches from the surface to space,” she said. “It’s an integrated system that encompasses all users–civil and military, existing and emerging–and offers the potential to enhance the safety, efficiency, security and sustainability of the airspace for all users.”

UTM is foundational for that future vision, but is beginning today “predominantly being explored and implemented with the needs of the small drone community operating at low altitudes in mind, so that the UTM system is distinct but compatible with the existing ATM system,” Troegler said.

As the numbers and capabilities of unmanned aircraft increase and other new entrants such as advanced air mobility (AAM) emerge, “there is a near-term need to extend the scope of UTM and a period of convergence where we see a gradual transition of UTM concepts to traditional ATM systems,” she said.

But UTM today is being implemented in a patchwork of different standards and regulatory frameworks, “and unless we follow a cohesive global approach it will result in non-interoperability and inefficiency,” Troegler said.

Airbus and Boeing teamed up with the International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industry Associations to recommend a series of actions. “First we need to work together on a global action plan for the development and implementation of UTM,” she said.

“This action plan is critical to ensuring a coordinated rollout of globally interoperable UTM systems that will deliver the same high standard of safety and performance for all airspace users, no matter where aircraft fly in the word,” Troegler said. “Secondly, we need to create a global operational concept that incorporates the needs of existing and emerging airspace users.”

Following the joint call to action, an advisory group has been formed under ICAO’s Air Navigation Committee to bring together the relevant stakeholders, including industry, regulators, ATM and UTM service providers, airspace users, infrastructure providers and research organizations.

Work is underway to define a set of governing principles and “develop a global road map for the transition to integrated ATM and digital airspace management for presentation to ICAO, probably in the course of next year,” she said, adding “UTM is an opportunity to explore new mechanisms for industry involvement in ICAO.”

Airbus and Boeing “share the same vision ... of a single airspace system that should enable secure and efficient delivery of new aviation services to the entire community, while ensuring long-term sustainable growth,” Troegler said. “And we believe UTM can be a critical area of continued innovation and also an enabler for safety advancement.”

Graham Warwick

Graham leads Aviation Week's coverage of technology, focusing on engineering and technology across the aerospace industry, with a special focus on identifying technologies of strategic importance to aviation, aerospace and defense.