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Singapore deploys first successful trial of unmanned aircraft traffic management system

Nova Systems (“Nova”), a multinational engineering services and technology solutions firm, and OneSky, a global UTM company developing airspace assessment, operations, and traffic management solutions, are pleased to announce the successful completion of Singapore’s first Unmanned Aircraft System (“UAS”) Traffic Management (“UTM”) trials.

This brings to a close a two-year consortium project, led by Nova, and co-founded as part of the UAS Call-For-Proposals (CFP) by the Ministry of Transport (“MOT”) and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (“CAAS”). It marks a significant milestone in Singapore’s journey towards a future driven by UAS technology, as private and government sector stakeholders look deeper into the possibility of the large-scale, integrated deployment of such technology in Singapore’s unique urban environment.

To conclude the trials, a UTM demonstration was held for CAAS on 10 March 2021. Using a mix of live flights and simulations, the demonstration showcased key developments and findings from the team’s work in UTM technologies over the past two years, in particular the handling of the mass deployment of drones flying Beyond Visual Line of Sight (“BVLOS”).

The technology developed and lessons learnt present numerous opportunities for Singapore’s UAS industry as a whole with large-scale drone deployment capable of supporting a range of critical operations, including surveillance patrols and delivery of essential supplies. Under pre-identified and monitored routes visualised through a UTM system, UAS operations are coordinated, regulated and safely integrated into our urban airways, ensuring the safety and security of all citizens.

The demonstration is the final stage of the project, which is co-funded by MOT and CAAS following their Call-For-Proposal (“CFP”) in 2017 to develop systems and technologies to enable the innovative and wide-ranging use of UAS in Singapore. Since the project began in October 2018, the consortium saw the successful completion of two suites of flight trials in April and December 2019, including a study of the operational suitability of 4G and 5G networks to safely support UAS operations in Singapore. The project was also supported by various leading industry partners, including Rohde & Schwarz, Scout Aerial, M1 Limited, F-drones, and Barrett Aerospace.

During the demonstration, three drones took to the skies near Marina South Pier under the UTM system framework prototype, the first of its kind in Singapore. To demonstrate the robustness of the UTM system, simulated flights were uploaded concurrently as well. Nova the first independent agencies to design and coordinate UTM trials to scale up multiple UAS operations within Singapore’s densely populated, high-rise, and tropical environment.

Mr Ryan Lee, Managing Director Asia at Nova Systems, said “We are grateful for the support of CAAS as we reach this major milestone today. While we are merely at the starting point of realising a future enhanced by UAS technology, the successful completion of Singapore’s first UTM trials serves as a catalyst to develop a robust and regulated UTM system. Designed specifically for our country’s unique landscape, our research and operations will support the continued development, deployment, and safe integration of UAS operations into the daily lives of Singaporeans. As we embark on this exciting future that will surely reshape traditional landscapes, we will continue to work closely with key stakeholders and partners to ensure the safe and secure deployment of UAS technology on a large scale.”

Bob Hammett, CEO of OneSky, said “We’re excited to have played a critical role in this successful UTM deployment – demonstrating the feasibility of safe and efficient integration of unmanned aircraft into the crowded airspace of Singapore. CAAS was an early proponent and thought leader for UTM and this trial marks a milestone in advancing Singapore’s Urban Air Mobility vision. We’re looking forward to expanding on this work and operationalising the technology across the region.”

A UTM system custom-made for Singapore

In Singapore and abroad, the immediate and long-term benefits of UAS technology have become increasingly evident. Growing demands for services such as last-mile delivery and mounting concerns over global issues like natural disasters and climate change have underscored the need to develop future-ready solutions to address the shortcomings of current urban infrastructures.

Locally, Singapore’s vision to become the world’s first Smart Nation has also accelerated the development and deployment of UAS operations on a greater scale. This includes plans to set up designated drone-flying areas, as well as the upcoming official launch of the Maritime Drone Estate, where drones can be tested for maritime applications.

However, Singapore’s urban environment also necessitates a gradual, well-coordinated, and carefully regulated approach to the large-scale deployment of UAS operations. The nation’s congested airspace, high population density, and tropical climate are just some of the unique challenges that a UTM system must address to establish robust networks and standards with the safety and security of all in mind.

The UTM project sought to address these critical issues, through rigorous testing to develop UTM technologies best fitted for Singapore’s unique landscape. Through its demonstration, the UTM technologies were validated in a range of real-life use cases in the maritime environment. These included shore-to-ship deliveries, vessel inspections, search and rescue flight profiles and general surveillance for security.

The demonstration also showcased how multiple drones could be deployed simultaneously in a safe and secure manner through the UTM system – via a network of pre-loaded flight routes submitted by multiple users, with the drones embarking on their individual flight paths within a framework fitted with early warning systems and geofencing to pre-empt any errant movements.

ST Engineering, which was one of the companies to be awarded the project under the CFP by MOT and CAAS to help develop and test solutions for shore-to-ship parcel delivery, supported the live trials by flying its own DroNet system simultaneously with Nova’s fleet. The trial successfully demonstrated the UTM system’s capabilities in managing large-scale BVLOS UAS operations and underscored the close collaboration that is needed among key industry players to facilitate the growth of a cohesive UAS ecosystem.

Opportunities on the horizon

The conclusion of Nova and OneSky’s joint project marks an early milestone in Singapore’s drive to develop a full-fledged UTM system for on-ground deployment. In the coming years, the two companies will work closely together with authorities and key industry players to develop the technologies, regulatory frameworks, operating rules and performance standards to build this system.

In the near future, citizens can look forward to UAS technologies empowering and improving their lives, through raised productivity, efficiency and flexibility of operations across a range of industries – from delivery and transport companies, to healthcare providers, to the construction and real estate sectors. These opportunities chart Singapore’s upward trajectory towards building a smarter, safer and more secure UAS-enabled future for all its citizens.

The successful completion of the project also drives new frontiers in the development of Urban Air Mobility (“UAM”) services in Singapore. The development of a UTM system is a critical component in allowing new unmanned aircraft, such as air taxis and delivery drones, to share the skies safely with existing manned aircraft. Tapping on the expertise in manned aircraft test and evaluation by its sister companies – which include global civil aerospace engineering firm GVH Aerospace, Australia-based geospatial firm Geoplex, and UK-based software as a service firm two10degrees, the project’s findings will provide a valuable resource for local authorities to develop technologies and regulatory frameworks to enable a multimodal mobility system in a safe and efficient manner.

With the long-term intent to build and create safe and secure global cities that are empowered by technology, Nova and OneSky are committed to enabling the safe, beneficial, and innovative use of UAS technologies during this critical period in urban history.

About UTM Systems

An Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) is an air traffic management ecosystem that is designed to autonomously control UAS operations, which include the flying of drones and air taxis.

Just like the commercial aircraft we travel on today are monitored and directed by human controllers, the flying machines of tomorrow must rely on a carefully regulated UTM system, fit for the environment they are operated in, to ensure the safety and security of users and those around them.

However, even more intricate than directing air traffic, a UTM system is designed to manage a fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) performing a range of operations – including deliveries, advanced air mobilities or inspections in and around urban areas. A UTM system needs to be highly automated and intelligent, relying on a network of systems communicating with each other to be able to manage the scale of simultaneous operations.

In Singapore for instance, the implementation of a UTM system would necessitate coordination between government stakeholders such as the Land Transport Authority (LTA), Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to establish a system of policies and regulations that address road safety, air traffic control, network capabilities, cyber security and national security.

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