The NASA MIRO Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research (cSETR) at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) is setting the pace in a nationwide effort to improve low-altitude airspace safety.
Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) experts from cSETR are leading a team comprised of leaders from El Paso County, the City of El Paso, El Paso International Airport and many other local government entities that will install the country’s first countywide-area operational low-altitude UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system.
The University and community have teamed up with California-based AirMap, a global airspace management platform for drones, for this implementation.
A UTEP research team began installation of the UTM infrastructure in February. The system achieved initial operational capability March 15, and is expected to be fully operational by late summer.
“Unmanned aerial systems research, development and commercialization is a rapidly expanding part of the U.S. economy,” said Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D., cSETR director and chair of UTEP’s mechanical engineering department. “The cSETR research team under the leadership of Dr. Michael McGee is positioning UTEP and our region as a national leader in this new frontier. Our effort will create incredible educational and economic development opportunities for the El Paso community.”
Drone use by public users throughout the United States has risen significantly during the past few years, a trend that is expected to continue. There are currently more than 1,000 drones in El Paso registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. The actual number of drones in El Paso is likely much larger since not all owners register their aircraft with the FAA.
“The use of unmanned aerial systems will continue to exponentially grow throughout the U.S.,” said Michael McGee, Ph.D., cSETR senior research associate. “This UTM system sets the foundation for UTEP and our greater community to be national leaders in this arena, serving our 21st century student population.”
The primary focus of the UTM system is to increase safety throughout the Paso del Norte region. Mid-air collisions between manned and unmanned aircraft in low-altitude airspace are a significant concern.
This UTM system will allow for increased situational awareness for pilots of manned and unmanned aircraft, thus increasing safety in the community. The secondary focus of the UTM system is to facilitate safe and efficient drone operations, increasing public safety, and attracting more high technology opportunities for UTEP students.
Some of the societal benefits from utilization of the UTM infrastructure include helping farmers increase production by identifying problems in crops more quickly, clearing traffic accidents faster, inspecting critical infrastructure without putting people at risk, helping firefighters combat blazes more effectively, assisting in search-and-rescue missions, and inspecting buildings to identify energy efficiency issues.