Swisscom Tests Smart Airspace Management for Drones Based on their LTE Network and FLARM

For the drone revolution to happen, applications first need to scale to be profitable, requiring a high level of automation. The largest obstacle for automation is the management of airspace: Allowing all manned and unmanned participant fair, efficient and safe access to airspace while maximizing capacity at low cost.

Traditional Air Traffic Control (ATC) struggles to provide this, with many of their processes being controlled by human operators. Clearly, new concepts are needed to achieve the scalability and automation that we need.

During the annual Innovation Week in summer 2018, Swisscom demonstrated a proof of concept that addresses the need for improving flight awareness in the lower airspace. The focus was on interoperability between legacy and new aircraft communication technologies. By aggregating multiple methods of connectivity, a much more detailed coverage of the airspace can be achieved. This concept can be seen as a supplement to the U-Space project recently announced by Skyguide, Switzerland’s Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP).

The following systems were incorporated into the solution:

  • FLARM, the leading traffic awareness and collision avoidance technology for General Aviation, light aircraft and UAVs. Over 35,000 manned aircraft and many UAVs are already equipped with FLARM and the number is rapidly increasing. The new FLARM eID standard was developed specifically for the needs of commercial UAV operators, allowing secure tracking and identification of UAVs.
  • ADS-B, a system used by large commercial airliners to make aircraft visible to ATC with high accuracy.
  • Swisscom’s LTE cellular network for connecting UAVs to U-Space and other infrastructure services, like ground receiver networks for FLARM and ADS-B.

Combining these data sources, a more complete picture of the airspace can be obtained and presented to the drone operator and U-Space service providers. The solution was successfully demonstrated to remotely detect a conflict provoked by an intruding aircraft, leading to automatic evasive action by the drone.

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Learning Series: Basel Flight School

Pierre Troendle (left) and Thomas Wittwer (right) preparing for the proficiency check.

Basel Flight School is located at the tripoint between Germany, Switzerland and France, at Basel international airport. The school was founded in 1967 and was one of the first flight schools to equip its fleet with a FLARM collision avoidance system. All aircraft, a variety of Piper and Tecnam training airplanes, were equipped almost 10 years ago – except for one. For a variety of reasons, the oldest airplane, an almost 40 years old Piper Turbo Arrow, was not equipped. Regrettably, this exact airplane was involved in a mid-air collision in January 2018. It collided over southern Germany with an EC-135 helicopter from the German air ambulance operator DRF Luftrettung. The instructor and student in the Piper as well as the crew in the helicopter died in the crash.

The EC-135 helicopter, like many helicopters in Germany, was equipped with FLARM. That did unfortunately not help in this case, since this Piper did not have FLARM, as mentioned above. Would it also have been equipped, it would almost certainly have avoided the disaster. Thomas Wittwer, Chief Flying Instructor at Basel Flight School, says that today he makes sure that all aircraft that he flies have an operating FLARM system. We met Thomas at the flight school during a rainy morning in March, while preparing a proficiency check with his student Pierre Troendle in his own Partenavia P.68 twin.

Thomas, why did you install FLARM in your aircraft fleet?

I have been flying many different aircraft types for over 30 years and have over 12.000 flight hours, most of which as an instructor. During my carrier, I have had three serious airprox incidents. The closest was around five years ago when I was flying an airplane in Germany that didn’t have FLARM. Close to a glider site, coming from nowhere, a glider crossed just in front of us at the same altitude. He passed from right to left and obviously didn’t see us either. We passed just a few meters behind him.

The second time, we were descending while another airplane was below us and descending as well. We were both flying the same track. We could not see him since he was below us. We were descending faster, and we noticed him just before crossing his altitude not many seconds behind him.

The third time was in a military training aircraft. Suddenly, the student says to me: “Look, the sky is on fire”. It took a few seconds until I realized that two Tornado fighter jets were coming straight at us at high speed. I quickly banked the aircraft to increase the chance that they see us, which they did about 2 seconds before impact. Both started turning and one passed to our left and one to our right.

I think I have had enough luck not to want to risk anything like this again. Since I started using FLARM, I haven’t had any similar incidents.

What has been your experience using FLARM?

It has saved me four times, where I didn’t see the other aircraft before I got the FLARM collision warning. I never fly without FLARM anymore. For example for today’s flight, Pierre doesn’t yet have FLARM installed in his aircraft, so I’m bringing the PowerFLARM Portable with me. Pierre has been interested in installing FLARM for a while, so this is also a great opportunity for him to try it out.

Pierre Troendle setting up the PowerFLARM Portable for the flight.

What do your students and instructors say about FLARM?

If you ask any instructor with a few years in the business, they have all had at least one serious airprox. The problem is that we generally don’t talk about these incidents. That’s of course not good from a safety perspective. Most instructors that I know love FLARM once they have used it.

And many students are shocked by the number of aircraft out there that cannot be seen otherwise. Many are not in contact with ATS so there is no way of being alerted of an impending collision without a collision avoidance system. Luckily, most aircraft in Switzerland and Germany carry FLARM. For other aircraft, PowerFLARM, which we now have, can also receive and warn about transponder and ADS-B Out equipped aircraft.

Are there any challenges using FLARM?

I think the most important one is training. Airline pilots receive both theoretical and simulator training about TCAS. Many GA pilots however have no FLARM training. The system just sits there. First, it’s important to realize that it’s a collision avoidance system and not a map you should constantly be looking at. Second, you need a strategy what to do when you get a collision warning. You should first try to visually acquire the other aircraft. But many people don’t realize that if you cannot see the other aircraft, you still have to do something! The risk is otherwise high that you will collide. From this perspective, I like the LED FLARM displays, because they focus on the collision warnings and don’t steal instrument time.

Another thing is to ensure that the antenna installation is done properly. FLARM uses low power to reduce frequency congestion, and thus doesn’t suffer from the same problems as the 1090 MHz frequency. However, this also makes the antenna installation important. We currently use the internal antennas and have sufficient range in most directions. Some of the aircraft however have limited range is some directions, so we will soon start installing the external AV-75 antennas on the aircraft.

What do you recommend as a resolution when receiving a collision warning?

Either make a 90 degree turn (left or right) or change altitude, based on the circumstances. And realize that you have to act immediately. When you receive the first collision warning, you have no more than 18 seconds to the collision, minus the time you spend looking for the aircraft.

Are there any disadvantages with FLARM?

The only one I can think of is that not all aircraft have FLARM. It should be mandatory for all light aircraft. Many more lives could be saved if everyone had FLARM. We are halfway there in Europe and even more so in Switzerland. But the last percentile is always the most difficult.

Why do you think FLARM has become so prominent in the last years?

First, there are more aircraft today than a few years ago. But what I think is even more important is that airspace has become much more complex, so VFR pilots have to rely on moving map systems to a greater extent. Nobody wants an airspace infringement and subsequent fine. This leads to pilots looking down instead of out the window. This of course increases the risk of a mid-air collision.

What would you say to other flight schools and flying clubs that don’t yet have FLARM?

What are you waiting for? FLARM is proven to have saved many lives. The system is not expensive. There is simply no excuse today not to have FLARM. And make sure that all students and members receive some basic FLARM training, so they know what to do when they receive a collision warning. Your club members and students will thank you.

Thank you very much for the chat. And have a nice flight!

Thank you, I’m sure we will.

Garmin TIS and Audio Out feature licenses to be removed

The FLARM ecosystem has developed with unprecedented speed in the last few years. Not only have thousands of new FLARM installations been done in GA airplanes and helicopters, but several new PowerFLARM-based OEM FLARM devices have been released by various manufacturers. This has given us lots of knowledge about how the different products are used. In addition, different devices target different target groups (e.g. aircraft types). In these respects, we are continually evaluating our product offerings.

Based on this evaluation, we have decided to remove the Garmin TIS and Audio Out (AUD) feature licenses from our webshop. Both licenses have seen a rather low number of purchases and have come with some technical challenges.

The Garmin TIS functionality has generated an elevated number of support requests regarding compatibility with various 3rd party displays. It is also limited as it allows for a maximum of 8 intruders to be displayed concurrently, and many aspects of a full FLARM display are simply ignored (e.g. error states). Unfortunately, these limitations were not easy to understand by customers and installers.

The Audio Out license has seen a decline in sales when this functionality has been replaced by similar functionality in displays and integrated FLARM systems. In addition, due to upcoming certification requirements for FLARM in rotorcraft, audio warnings need to be more closely integrated with the specific aircraft systems and configuration, which is not possible with the current audio out implementation.

The Garmin TIS and Audio Out licenses will be removed from the webshop end of 2018. Purchases of these licenses will continue to be unrestricted until that time. Licenses that have once been purchased will continue to be functional without restriction. Devices purchased in 2018 or earlier will continue to remain eligible for the licenses. Please contact us in such cases.

These changes will have limited effect but will help us focus on the functions and features that have a high value for the users.

FLARM and uAvionix Collaborate to Create Electronic Conspicuity Solutions for Manned and Unmanned Aircraft

FLARM Technology and uAvionix today announced a partnership to collaborate on Electronic Conspicuity (EC) and Detect and Avoid (DAA) solutions for manned and unmanned aircraft. uAvionix specializes in ADS-B, Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR) transponders, and GNSS position sources for manned and unmanned aircraft. FLARM specializes in situational awareness and active DAA solutions for General Aviation and unmanned aircraft. Both companies offer products for installation and portable use together with modern display systems such as Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) applications.

The companies plan to incorporate their respective technologies into one another’s products and to develop and sell interoperable solutions for these markets across the world. The companies also plan to collaborate on UAS remote identification standards and solutions. FLARM’s Open eID Standard, the first electronic identification standard published globally, is being trialled in Europe for DAA and remote identification purposes, a key enabler for UTM frameworks like U-Space. uAvionix’ DroneAware system is being tested as a component of the NASA UTM TCL3 demonstrations as well as three of the UAS Integration Pilot Programs in the US.

“As the airspace becomes more and more crowded, it is increasingly important to integrate existing electronic conspicuity solutions into interoperable platforms. ADS-B and FLARM are the two dominating GNSS-based solutions in use today” said Christian Ramsey, President uAvionix.

“Combining Detect and Avoid and remote ID solutions for both manned and unmanned traffic will enable the safe and efficient integration of all traffic in the same airspace and keep the responsibility where it should be: with the pilot,” said Daniel Hoffmann, General Manager FLARM Technology.

FLARM als Hilfsmittel bei Untersuchungen von Flugunfällen

FLARM verbessert nicht nur die Sicherheit in der Luft, sondern hilft auch bei der Aufklärung von Unfällen. FLARM Geräte zeichnen neben dem eigenen Flugweg auch einige Positionsmeldungen anderer Flugzeuge auf. Ursprünglich als Mittel für die Reichweitenanalyse gedacht, können diese Meldungen auch für Untersuchungen sowie dem Auffinden vermisster Flugzeuge nützlich sein. Durch die Kombination von Daten von mehreren Geräten kann idealerweise der Absturzort ermittelt oder die der Flugweg in den letzten Minuten vor dem Unfall rekonstruiert werden.

Dieser Artikel in Luzerner Zeitung erklärt, wie FLARM die Sust dabei unterstützt, die letzten Minuten im Flug einer Socata TB-10 zu rekonstruieren, die am Samstag verunglückt ist.

Commercial BVLOS Drone Service uses FLARM for Traffic Avoidance

Swiss Post, the Insel hospital group, and drone manufacturer Matternet have started a commercial BVLOS drone transport service in the Swiss capital city of Berne. The drones are connecting the Insel university hospital and Tiefenau hospital, located 4 km (2.5 miles) apart, carrying lab samples and urgently needed medication. The route is located entirely inside the controlled airspace around the city’s airport.

“When lab samples need to be transported as quickly as possible from A to B, every minute counts”, says Uwe E. Jocham, Insel’s CEO. The lab samples are currently transported by courier. For urgent cases, Insel uses a taxi.

All drones are equipped with our FLARM traffic information and collision warning system. Our technology is standard in most aircraft operating in European airspace and allows both manned and unmanned aircraft to see and stay well clear of each other at any time. In addition, it enables the drones to be identified and tracked at all times, a key requirement of U-Space for the safe and efficient integration of drones into airspace shared with manned aviation.

In the near future, Swiss Post together with medical laboratory Zentrallabor ZLZ and Matternet will start another commercial BVLOS drone transport service above Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city. The service will connect ZLZ’s main medical laboratory with the Hirslanden Im Park hospital. The routing crosses the lake of Zurich and is partially in uncontrolled airspace.

The Swiss Civil Aviation Authority FOCA has been involved in the project, has inspected the drone and its safety components, defined the legal conditions for flying it, and granted approval for the flights in Berne and Zurich.

FlarmNet is undergoing maintenance

FlarmNet, where pilots can register their FLARM devices to be identifiable by other pilots, is currently undergoing maintenance. The improved FlarmNet will be released shortly.

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