The Integration of a Smart UTM: Transport Malta Case Study
As the government of Malta (CAD) was looking for a safe and efficient way to regulate Unmanned Traffic Management, IDRONECT UTM came up with an automated customised solution.
The Maltese Civil Aviation Directorate: Introduction
The Maltese Civil Aviations Directorate or CAD is the organisation responsible for safe, legal, and efficient usage of the airspaces in Malta. As a part of Transport Malta, they specifically make sure that all the (un)manned aviation activities above Malta are happening securely and that all (un)manned flights are in line with the regulations set by the EASA, EUROCONTROL, ICAO, and the ECAC.
Malta’s Big Challenge
Flying drones in Malta is popular. Many tourists bring their drones to capture footage of their holidays, or simply to enjoy flying their drones, since Malta is somewhat of an early adopter of drones. Besides these types of flights, there are a large number of flights for the cinematography industry; think about Games Of Thrones or the latest Jurassic Park movie.
The problem in Malta is that the entire airspace of the island is controlled airspace, due to the arrival and approach routes to the airport. That means that, for every flight in Malta, whether manned or unmanned, governmental permission needs to be given in order to fly.
On 31st of December 2020, the new EASA regulations dealing with drones came into force, which also applied to Malta, a full member of the EASA. That means that all flights on the island of Malta need to be approved, whether manned or unmanned. Plus, operators need to get a so-called “EASA UAV Operator”-Certificate.
There are more than 40 commercial aviation companies based on the island, which is possible through a strict but hands-on following of the EASA rules.
Drone operations on the Maltese archipelago had so far been managed by a type of manual system that many countries have used as well. That is, if you wanted to fly your drone, you needed to send an email to the authorities, stating:
- at which date and time you wanted to fly
- a map of the exact route you would be flying
- a risk assessment of that route
- the type of drone you would be flying for that route
- identification of the pilot(s) for your route
- and more!
There was simply no standardised system or format for a drone pilot to send this type of information to the government in an automated way.
With over 1500 unmanned flights per year and the fact that every drone flight notification or request for approval is different, that meant that the aviation authorities faced a lot of administrative follow-up and back-and-forth communication with the pilots or drone operators flying these drones.
Such a bureaucratic method inevitably led to a lot of illegal drone flying, which poses a risk to other forms of (un)manned transportation, objects, and citizens.
In short, the Maltese authorities went out to search for a better solution for flying drones in their airspaces, while also keeping in mind the new EASA rules and the need to know at any given time all the details of drone flights happening in Malta.
The Perfect Solution: The IDRONECT UTM
While analysing Malta’s challenge, we needed to find a solution that would provide Malta with:
- an easy way for citizens (and visitors) to connect with the Maltese Civil Aviation Directorate;
- an automated UTM in which all data are centralised;
- an easy way for both citizens (and visitors) and Malta to be in line with the updated EASA regulations;
- an easy-to-use way for both parties to handle their paperwork intuitively.
In short, we needed to make it as easy as possible to set up a flight for drone pilots; while still guaranteeing maximum oversight of all drone flights for the Maltese authority, with a minimum of administrative workload for the authorities.
Besides normal ‘aviation’ airspaces, we also needed to include so-called geo-zones or restricted areas that are not really airspaces in the traditional sense. Good examples of these are sensitive areas such as hospitals, embassies, prisons, and so on.
Eye in the Sky: The Live Tracking of Drones
Another important criterion was, of course, safety adherence and compliance. It is important that the Maltese authorities have an overview of all the drone activity that is going on in their airspaces.
That is why, in our UTM, we made sure that the drones that are flying can be tracked in real-time. So when drone flights are being planned in sensitive areas or restricted zones, the Civil Aviation Directorate can choose to impose a tracker, which the CAD provides.
This way, whenever a drone is flown outside of the planned zone, a breach alert will be sent to the drone pilot, the observer, the authority, and to any other stakeholder.
An important aspect of the usability of this UTM is the use of so-called “automatic flight approvals”. Through an intelligent system of configurable parameters, the IDRONECT UTM identifies the risk level of a certain planned flight.
When the risk is considered to be low, the flight is labeled as “eligible for auto-approval”. All other flights, identified as “medium” or “high risk”, or those flying close to or in a sensitive or restricted area, require further coordination with the team.
Through auto-approval, authorities no longer need to manually approve hundreds of unmanned flights that are already in line with the rules of certain airspace and the involved authorities.
They can simply focus on those flights that do matter; the flights that deviate from the general rules.
User Guidance And Training
The IDRONECT UTM is set up by our team and has been designed to work intuitively. After all, we want to make sure that users (both drone and authority) can be trained quickly and thoroughly.
That is why, if users need a bit more information, or in the unlikely event that they get stuck, a full user guide is available online. For authority users, we provide in-depth training on how to use all aspects of the system.
Lastly, the UTM needed to be set up and going soon. To do that, we worked in a 3-step process.
1. Incorporated EASA Rules & Customised Rules
First, we make sure that all the EASA rules are incorporated into the UTM system. For rules that are specific to the Maltese authorities, we made sure that they could enter the rules in the IDRONECT Rule Editor and show the result in the simulator before validating them.
We then added some extra conditions that drone pilots need to comply with or extra documents that needed to be provided. We also defined workflows that designed the path from flight request to approval in minutes.
2. Include All The Airspaces Including Georeferenced Zones
Then we made sure that all of the airspaces controlled by Malta were configured. In doing this, we included airspaces straight from EUROCONTROL and imported any georeferenced zone which they needed to control.
Think about restricted zones, critical infrastructures, and so on. Each zone could then be given its own flight parameters (flight not permitted, only during the day, …). They could even configure the cost of certain airspace, in case drone pilots were operating a test centre.
3. Connecting Drone Operators To The Maltese Authorities In A Whitelabel UTM
Lastly, we had to connect the drone operator and the Maltese authority. We set up the Portal Hub, defined the roles of all actors, included forms, and even customised the platform. We also configured the flight tracking features and geofence messaging.
The version we set up for Malta was also a white-label version. After some testing, the IDRONECT UTM was ready to go.
Results Of Our Customised Solution
Between the moment the contract was awarded to the first live test of the system, 2 weeks passed. We added some extra customised features and only a month after the initial ‘go’ was given, the platform went live in Malta.
On the night of the announcement of IDRONECT’s incorporated UTM in CAD, on national television, nearly 500 drone operators had already started registering on the system.
In short, our simple and intuitive design combined with the speed at which the UTM was set up, led to an important aspect of the IDRONECT UTM, namely the cost of our system, which is highly affordable compared to larger and more complex UTMs.