New system to put eyes on Aussie drone traffic

A long-promised air traffic control system for drones is one step closer to reality after Australia’s air traffic control agency selected an Austrian headquartered company to take the Flight Information Management System forward.

Airservices Australia on Monday revealed the local arm of air traffic management provider Frequentis had come out on top in a two-year procurement process to develop the Flight Information Management System (FIMS).

FIMS will form the basis of Australia’s Uncrewed Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM) ecosystem, linking drones, air taxis and other uncrewed aircraft with the existing air traffic management system.

Having begun consultation on the FIMS in mid-2020, Airservices Australia approached the market for the date exchange gateway in April 2021 to “open up the skies safely and efficiently to new airspace users”.

Frequentis Australasia was one of four companies shortlisted to develop a prototype in early 2022, with in-field trials taking place between October and November 2022. Other companies to take part were ANRA Technologies, Altitude Angel and OneSky Systems.

No timeframe was provided on Monday for when the new system will be operationalised. The value of the contract is also undisclosed, although the original tender document shows that Airservices only intends to fund 50 per cent of the project’s cost.

Airservices Australia’s chief executive Jason Harfield said that with the rapid growth of uncrewed aircraft expected over the next 20 years, FIMS will support the safe integration of drones into air traffic control.

“Drones are the biggest growth area in aviation and our partnership with Frequentis to develop a FIMS will enable us to integrate millions of drone flights with other users,” he said in a statement.

“With Frequentis, we will develop a FIMS that meets the needs of Australian airspace users and ensures we can safely integrate millions of drone flights with other users. I’m confident the new FIMS will encourage the growing drone market to reach its full potential in Australia.”

According to analysis commissioned by Airservices and prepared by Scyne Advisory, drone flights are projected to surge from around 1.5 million to more than 60.4 million a year by 2043, driven largely by demand in the transport and logistic sector.

The report, released last month, also envisions more than 2.3 million drone flights for takeaway, agriculture and emergency services in that timeframe, with around a million more trips by electric air taxis also predicted.

Martin Rampl, the managing director of Frequentis Australia, said the company – the only firm to have “successfully delivered UTM solutions to multiple air navigation service providers” globally – was happy to have been selected following the procurement.

“This strategic partnership with Airservices Australia represents another important milestone in our mission to support the Australia airspace ecosystem with safe, efficient and complaint integration of drones while fostering innovation and economic growth,” he said.

“We are looking forward to working with Airservices to jointly develop the system, pushing technological innovation in the uncrewed aviation domain, including the ability to integrate new services in the future.”

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