Altitude Angel and Inmarsat to offer air traffic management for UAVs

Altitude Angel, a provider of Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) technology, and Inmarsat, a leader in global mobile satellite communications, today announced a collaboration to develop and deliver advanced flight tracking and management capability for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones.

The two companies will build on Altitude Angel’s GuardianUTM platform to jointly develop a ‘Pop-Up UTM’ capability that can be deployed anywhere it is required to manage Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) UAV flights, without the need for ground-based communications infrastructure. By utilising Inmarsat’s world-leading global network of satellites and leveraging its substantial experience in Air Traffic Management (ATM) communications, Altitude Angel’s Pop-Up UTM can be accessed rapidly and deployed worldwide.

The Pop-Up UTM will be developed initially to address the unmanned traffic management needs of blue light emergency services and first responders who need aerial surveillance rapidly with little notice, with a commercial, industry-focussed product to follow soon after. Through this technology, emergency services will be able to manage UAVs remotely, increasing their range of safe operations in mixed airspace containing manned and unmanned vehicles.

Anthony Spouncer, Inmarsat Aviation’s Senior Director of UAVs & UTM, said: “Inmarsat is excited to partner with Altitude Angel on this ground-breaking technology, which allows UAV flights to operate quickly, efficiently and safely. Inmarsat is uniquely positioned to act as a catalyst for the safe and rapid growth of the Unmanned Aerial Systems sector due to our state-of-the-art global satellite network, decades of experience in keeping aircraft safe through communications, navigation and surveillance services, and relationships with Air Traffic Management providers worldwide. We also bring first-hand experience of working with international aid organisations to deliver emergency communications in remote areas.”

ATM  had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Spouncer about the challenge at hand.  Today the industry talks about UAVs as the answer, what seems to be missing is the question.  Inmarsat believes their expertise in working government agencies to support their drone operations enables a clear definition of the question.  The issue is the ability to safely utilise all airspace and support pertinent regulation.  Today they are seeing the acceleration of drone applications due to COVID-19.  The good news is that it appears that this momentum will continue now that these applications have been proven.  In addition to delivery services, the first application to truly ramp, cargo transportation, inspection and surveillance and urban transport are also gaining speed.

BVLOS is another area where Inmarsat’s satellite network solves an existing challenge.  Compared to the use of the telecommunications network, which might have to resort to a best effort level of performance, satellite can provide a more consistent level of performance.  This results in drone operators being able to fly more missions of a longer distance and grow their business potential.  There could also be a Quality of Service (QoS) guarantee provided in the future.  As drone operations evolve, cybersecurity is a topic that will increase in importance.  Security is inherent in the satellite network and positions the drone operators who use their solution to provide a higher level of quality.

Phil Binks, Altitude Angel, Head of Air Traffic Management, added: “The ability to almost instantly ‘pop-up’ safe, secure and fully operational UTM platforms in any environment, at any time, will give first responders, blue light services and aid organisations a valuable new tool that could save countless lives. Altitude Angel and Inmarsat, in developing ‘Pop-Up UTM’, will be able to bring connectivity, clarity and automated air traffic control services for UAVs in even the most challenging of circumstances.”

Altitude Angel is able to adapt existing services to work on higher latency/lower bandwidth networks and enable ‘mode switching’ to ensure a robust communications link with deployed vehicles is always maintained. This provides emergency services and first responders with the ability to have a single source point-of-truth where UAVs and piloted aviation can be co-ordinated on the same platform.