Skye Air launches India’s first traffic management system for drones
Gurugram-based drone solutions provider Skye Air today launched a traffic management system for drones in India. Launched in the presence of Minister of Road Transport and Highways of India Nitin Gadkari, the software will allow drone operators to plan routes, make flight plans and assess risks before running drone-based operations in the country. The solution, called Skye UTM, is a first-of-its-kind for India.
Unmanned traffic management systems will play a key role in how airspace will be managed, allowing multiple beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operations to be run by different firms at the same time. Globally several companies, such as US-based AirMap and Netherlands-based Airbus, offer such solutions.
According to Ankit Kumar, chief executive officer of Skye Air, the software imports data from the government’s Digital Sky platform, which has been created to help drone operators plan flights in Indian airspace. The platform was first launched in 2018 and offers drone operators essential information for running drone missions in the country. It is run by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
“Ideally the government should make the Digital Sky API public so third-party apps and service providers can pull data from it and build apps that are more user-friendly and have more geospatial, terrain, and weather data. This can help the ecosystem around it to evolve. Right now Digital Sky is not tailored for specific use cases of businesses,” said the founder of a drone manufacturing firm who requested anonymity.
Kumar said that Skye UTM will allow operators a “better understanding” of where they can fly. India’s Drone Rules 2021 set restrictions on where private entities can fly zones by designating red, green and yellow zones. Such information can be obtained from platforms like Digital Skye, which Skye UTM facilitates, while also adding additional data.
“When an operator goes to our maps they get a better understanding of where they can fly, at what altitude or whether in a circle, grid or straight line. You can see where the building or telecom towers are and how high they are. This helps them create a flight plan that is more aware of the surroundings,” said Kumar, adding that the software has been tested on over 300 successful BVLOS flights.
BVLOS refers to drone flights where the pilot cannot see the drone. They allow firms to run drone missions over greater distances, required for logistics, medicine delivery and more. Kumar added that Skye UTM will also offer latitude and longitude data, which is unavailable on Digital Sky.
To be sure, information on drone flights planned through Skye UTM will also be shared with authorities before a take-off. After an operator submits the flight plan, information on the drone license number, drone operator’s contact, flight plan, purpose of flight, and duration and time of flight will be shared with the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which can then reject a flight if it finds inconsistencies or possible disruptions with aircraft/helicopter operations.
To track drones, Skye Air is also offering something called remote ID services, which is a piece of hardware that needs to be installed on drones to communicate real-time information on its location.