Australia picks four competitors for drone UTM prototype system

Australia drones FIMS

Airservices Australia, the state agency providing safe, secure, and efficient operational support to members of the nation’s aviation industry, has chosen four companies to compete in the creation of prototype flight information management systems (FIMS) to integrate drones and next-generation craft into the country’s airspace.

Australia has jumped to the head of nations developing amateur, public service, and enterprise use of drones, and has been equally active in preparing for future urban air mobility (UAM) services like air taxis. To facilitate that multiplying movement in the skies, Airservices Australia has asked the quartet of companies to propose an FIMS as the nucleus of an air traffic system linking controllers, traditional aircraft, and newer airspace vehicles like drones.

Given the fast pace of development and enormous financial stakes in looming drone services, Australian authorities are keen to have an FIMS selected, put into place, fully tested, and ready for use when activity begins to proliferate in its low-altitude airspace.

 “The expected growth of new airspaces users and new aircraft types – all with different automation, digitization, and intelligence systems – presents an exciting opportunity for Airservices to work collaboratively with industry to develop the FIMS, and provide safe, efficient and equitable access to airspace for traditional as well as new airspace users,” said Airservices Australia’s chief customer experience and strategy officer, Peter Curran. 

The effort to put that system into operation will fall to the winner of Airservices Australia’s current FIMS competition. Bidding for the work are UAS traffic management specialists ANRA Technologies, Altitude Angel, Frequentis Australasia, and OneSky Systems. The down-selection process is expected to advance to the decisive in-field trials stage later this year.

A major functionality of the winning system will be the flow and accessibility of data between all users, Curran notes.

Were emergency services to request temporary priority access for emergency aircraft to conduct a rescue operation, for example, the FIMS would need to automatically share updated air operations data with all crewed and uncrewed air vehicles operating in shared airspace so they could quickly comply.

“FIMS will facilitate the exchange of information between all stakeholders – air traffic control, traditional aircraft, and drone operators – to enable the safest and most efficient use of mixed-traffic airspace,” Curran notes.

That promises to ensure the harmonious flight of drones and UAM craft when those have been certified for operation. Airservices Australia’s role in making that happen is outlined in the government’s National Emerging Aviation Technologies Policy Statement, which projects those next generation vehicles and services generating $14.5 billion in new economic activity over the next 20 years.

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