German UTM system based on FLARM

Droniq, a joint venture between the German ANSP DFS and Deutsche Telekom, is offering the first operational drone traffic management system in Europe and paves the way for safe and efficient drone operations in shared airspace and BVLOS.

Drones are detected with the help of a drone traffic management system (UAS traffic management system, UTM, U-Space) based on DFS’ air traffic control system and the Deutsche Telekom mobile communications network. For the drone to be detected, the company has developed a special LTE modem with an integrated SIM card, the so-called hook-on device (HOD). After this device is hooked on the drone, it transmits the position of the drone and its identification to the UTM system using the mobile communications network. In addition to basic data, the network can also be used to transfer steering commands and other information.

In the airspace close to the ground, there is currently no radar coverage and airspace users generally fly according to visual flight rules. For this reason, aircraft or helicopters generally use the traffic awareness and collision warning system FLARM which continuously transmits position and other flight data. The devices receive FLARM and forward the data via mobile communications network the UTM cloud. In this way, the drone pilot always receives a precise overview of all flight movements in the vicinity. In addition, the HOD also transmits its own position data via FLARM, so a manned aircraft near a drone with a HOD will automatically receive a warning in the cockpit although he doesn’t even use the UTM.

The first released version of the UTM is available and already being used operationally by companies in the chemical and energy industry. Droniq service covers the entire spectrum for drone flights beyond the visual line of sight.

New FLARM displays from AIR Avionics certified

Two new models of the AIR Traffic Display series from the company AIR Avionics have today been certified as FLARM Compatible in the category ‘Primary Display’. Certification in this category makes it possible to install the display as the main display connected to FLARM devices that don’t have their own display.

The new displays ATD-11 and ATD-80 complement the previously certified display ATD-57, which is to date one of the most commonly installed FLARM displays, especially in powered aircraft. ATD-80 is a larger version of the ATD-57 and fits in a standard 80 mm (3 1/8″) cutout. The ATD-11 is a rectangular model with a large screen, intended for external mounting.

Many functions of the AIR Traffic Displays have been developed as a result of research projects at leading research facilities, such as the Institute of Flight Systems and Automatic Control at the Technical University of Darmstadt.

The displays can be found, together with other certified displays, under the ‘Primary Displays’ category in the Product Selector.

Computer Vision to Assist Pilots

See-and-avoid is still the gold standard for collision avoidance in aviation, especially in VFR. There is simply no system that can detect all traffic, from airliners to single-engine piston aircraft, paragliders, and UAVs. Looking out is still part of the routine even of airliner pilots – especially while flying through Class-ECHO airspace shared with General Aviation (as is shockingly common, for instance, in Germany and Switzerland).

Alas, human vision is notoriously limited and pilots have more than just this one job to focus on. So why not help the humans (and similarly, air traffic control on the ground) by pointing out traffic they may have missed, complementing cooperative systems like transponders/TCAS, ADS-B or FLARM?

Together with the Computer Vision Laboratory (CVLAB) of the EPFL in Lausanne, we have developed a leading-edge architecture together with a set of algorithms to do exactly that. It detects and classifies other manned aircraft and some other hazards in a live video stream from one onboard camera based on hardware that can fit into a GA cockpit. This information can then be used to track and locate targets, to issue warnings to the pilots and even to automatically recommend and execute avoidance manoeuvres. Some algorithms are based on the well-researched YOLO architecture, using tools from deep learning and convolutional neural networks (CNN) to achieve high accuracy while running in real-time. Other algorithms apply common computer vision algorithms.

A crucial part of deep learning methods is to have a large set of sample data that can be fed to the algorithm for training. The data first needs to be annotated by humans, which can be a very tedious task. CVLAB has developed tools to make this efficient and together we have annotated a huge set of video data from many flights conducted under various traffic and environmental conditions.

Check out some results in the video below.

FLARM dominantly part of ‘Share the Air’ in the UK

‘Share the Air’ is a UK CAA initiative to promote the use of cooperative technologies for collision avoidance and Electronic Conspicuity (EC) in UK airspace. FLARM is an important part of this and is heavily involved with the CAA in developing the context for requiring collision avoidance technologies in different parts of UK airspace.

During the spring, the UK CAA ran a Call for Evidence, which FLARM participated in and gave extensive feedback. The results have just been published and FLARM was unsurprisingly the system that was acknowledged by most respondents. FLARM is already well integrated into UK airspace with over 7,000 aircraft flying in the UK being equipped to date. Of these, half are powered airplanes and helicopters.

We will continue working closely with the regulators to ensure that as many aircraft as possible are equipped with FLARM to increase the safety for all diligent and responsible pilots.

FlarmLED+ from LXNAV certified

The FlarmLED+ display from the company LXNAV has now been certified as FLARM Compatible in the category ‘Primary Display’. Certification in this category makes it possible to install the display as the main display connected to FLARM devices that don’t have their own display.

The FlarmLED+ has bright bi-color LEDs for the collision warnings and a digital distance indicator, which can be configured for km, nm, or statute miles. It also has an innovative capacitive touchpad and very loud internal aural warnings.

The display can be found, together with other certified displays, under the ‘Primary Displays’ category in the Product Selector.

FLARM joins Swiss U-Space Implementation Group

The Swiss Civil Aviation Authority (FOCA) today has decided FLARM qualifies both as a Supplemental Data Service Providers (SDSP) as well as a future U-Space Service Provider (USP) and thus has accepted our an application to join the Swiss U-Space Implementation group (SUSI).

The U-Space – a European term for Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) – is a set of services and specific procedures enabling a safe, efficient, sustainable and secure integration of drones into the airspace. These services rely on a high level of digitalisation and automation of functions, which enable complex operations with low human workload. Harmonized standards worldwide are key for a dynamic drone sector, as legal certainty is needed to enable investment.

EASA approves FLARM for helicopters

FLARM in action. A V4 LED display (top center of the instrument panel) indicates a collision warning and shows direction to the intruder.

EASA has formally approved FLARM for fixed installation in helicopters. Being already installed in over 40,000 General Aviation aircraft, helicopter operators previously had to apply for individual installation approvals from EASA or use PowerFLARM Portable. The newly published EASA Certification Memorandum (CM) extends generic FLARM installations from ELA2 aircraft (previously available as a Standard Change or an AML-based Minor Change) to all CS‑23, CS‑27 and CS‑29 aircraft, including all rotorcraft.

“This is a huge advancement for GA safety in Europe”, said Daniel Hoffmann, General Manager at FLARM Technology. “We have seen a massive increase in demand for FLARM from helicopter operators all around Europe in just the last two years. In Switzerland, almost all helicopters already have FLARM since a few years. In Germany and other European countries, many large operators, including the Federal Police, ADAC and DRF, have FLARM installed in their large helicopter fleets”.

The newly published CM will enable both operators and aircraft manufacturers to easily integrate FLARM. It is also one of the first times that EASA has ever applied the ‘Net Safety Benefit’ approach in their certification activities. “EASA has taken the over 100 million flight hours of FLARM into account”, said Hoffmann. “We have estimated that FLARM has saved over 50 lives in the last fifteen years. At the same time, there have been no incidents where FLARM was a causal factor”.

The CM approves FLARM for both VFR and IFR under VMC but does not give credit against ADS-B Out and TCAS requirements (applicable for aircraft above 5,700 kg MTOM).

“This also opens the door for the whole certified avionics market”, said Hoffmann. “We are currently in discussions with several certified avionics manufacturers about both integration of FLARM as well as display compatibility with standalone FLARM systems”.

FLARM systems are available from several different manufacturers for many different aircraft types.

FLARM receives UK BGA Safety Award

FLARM has been awarded the UK BGA’s Bill Scull Safety Award during AERO 2019. The motivation for the award from the BGA is as follows:

Bill Scull was a very active safety practitioner in gliding. The Bill Scull award is presented annually to a person or organisation for services to gliding safety.

Mid-air collisions have killed 33 UK glider pilots since 1975. Almost all mid-air glider collisions are with another glider, and they mainly happen in the dynamic situations in thermals and around airfields, where other gliders can be hidden from sight behind the glider structure.

In 2004, three Swiss glider pilots applied their engineering expertise to design a system that would alert pilots about an imminent collision and give an indication of the direction in which the threat lay.

Today, most of the active UK glider fleet carries the FLARM system that they invented; we have had no glider-glider collisions since 2014 – the first time that there have been four such years in a row; and there has only ever been one collision between FLARM-equipped gliders.

Having invented the FLARM system and designed the first devices, Urs, Andrea and Urban continued to develop the system to improve its performance, adapt its behaviour for competitions, add functionality to measure antenna performance and find lost gliders and to build in an obstacle database. New versions allowed multiple antennas for better coverage, and detection of powered aircraft equipped with transponders or ADS-B.

FLARM’s complex path prediction algorithms mean that it remains the only collision alerting system that is effective in the close manoeuvring situations such as thermals in which gliders spend so much time.

For devising, manufacturing, sustaining and continuing to develop this exceptional safety system, which has helped prevent collisions and save glider pilots’ lives across Europe, Urs, Andrea and Urban are deserving recipients of the Bill Scull safety award.