Jonathan Evans is President of the Global UTM Association, a nonprofit based in Lausanne, Switzerland. It is representing organizations distributed across 15 countries and 7 activities: Air navigation service providers, UAS manufacturers, UAS operators, UTM software providers, Infrastructure providers, Regulatory bodies, and Academic experts.
“It is important that the industry provides a unified vision and interoperable tools to drone operators and governments.”
In July 2016 the Global UTM Association was officially established in Lausanne. Why did the need arise to create an institution like this in Switzerland?
There was an international conference in Geneva earlier in 2016. Air navigation service providers, civil aviation authorities, drone manufacturers, and telecommunication infrastructure operators, as well as software and data providers, met to discuss the development of UAS traffic management. At the end of the meeting, it was obvious that despite common goals, each participant had a slightly different understanding of UTM. It is important that the industry provides a unified vision and interoperable tools to drone operators and governments. That’s how the decision was taken to create the association. We chose Lausanne for our Headquarters because of the proximity to EPFL, a leading technical university specialising in robotics.
What are the main goals of the association?
We have 3 main goals for 2017. First of all, we will publish a high-level architecture of UTM towards the end of March. That blueprint will allow us to share a common understanding of UTM and a common language. From there, we will move into two other crucial topics: drone registration and data exchange. Registration is the first step to identifying drones as they fly. It is important for public acceptance and security that we know what is flying above us, and fundamental to any networked infrastructure. Data exchange, the common protocols by which these systems communicate, will be invisible to almost everyone but will allow drone operators to seamlessly integrate with UTM-compatible systems for air traffic management across the world.
What can we expect from the Overall Architecture Working Group ?
UTM is not a single piece of equipment or software, rather it is a set of tools and stakeholders, a system of systems, interacting with each other to inform pilots about flight conditions, to authorise operations and to track drones. The Overall Architecture Working Group describes the different stakeholders and their functions.
Switzerland is developing a remarkable commercial drone cluster and investing a lot in R&D in projects of this sector. Is it looking for a leading position in Europe?
Indeed, Swiss universities have done a very good job in promoting industry transfer. NCCR Robotics, a nationwide centre consisting of many research groups across Switzerland, has been instrumental in the development of the ecosystem. Very innovative companies such as senseFly, Flyability, Verity Studios, Fotokite and others have benefited from the support of Swiss Research. Those companies do not compete with DJI in the “prosumer” space. They cater to very specific audiences. Swiss companies have always been significantly stronger at meeting businesses needs compared to consumer needs.
What is the current legislative situation in Switzerland with regard to drones?
The Swiss regulator has adopted a very pragmatic and flexible approach to drones. They have developed a risk-based philosophy that allows for many operations to take place, as long as they do not pose a risk to people in the air or on the ground, or to any infrastructures. They also use existing laws, regarding privacy for instance, instead of creating new laws specific to drones. This favourable environment definitely played a role in the development of the Swiss drone industry.
What about private funds? Will one of the main roles of Global UTM Association be to look for a balance between public and private funding?
GUTMA is a non-profit industry association, as such the industry should fund it. We do not exclude applying for grants if we believe that we can add value to a public project, but the association should be in a position to operate without public funding.
The Global UTM Association attended Global Robot Expo in Madrid, Spain. What was the main purpose of your participation?
The Global Robot Expo in Madrid was a great opportunity to meet and share ideas with experts in areas related to UTM in other industries. We cannot work in isolation. Drone Traffic Management is part of a much wider trend. Whether they operate on the ground, on the water, or in the air, we will see more and more intelligent robots moving around us. Some call it the internet of moving things, others refer to autonomous vehicles.