Iridium proposes new UAS integration plan


Iridium Communications has proposed a new model for uncrewed aircraft system (UAS) integration into US national airspace.

Coming off the back of recent results of a UAS flight trial focused on highlighting BVLOS capabilities, Iridium has published a white paper ‘Monitored BVLOS: A New Model for UAS Integration in the National Airspace System’. The paper references a number of areas related to BVLOS operations including how to maintain safe separation of aircraft and what commercial off-the-shelf avionics are available today.

“With a standardised and simplified BVLOS waiver process, we are confident the drone industry could take advantage of the proven and now recommended MEL [minimum equipment list],” said John Peterson, executive director, Aviation, Iridium. “Applying a BVLOS MEL in Class E airspace when flying in low-density population or rural or remote areas would be a great step toward dramatically increasing innovation and operational efficiency.”

As part of the flight trial, a remotely piloted drone equipped with Iridium avionics, identified an intersecting aircraft from five nautical miles away with a closure rate of 300 knots. The drone performed a BVLOS evasive manoeuvre in under 18 seconds from detection to completion, maintaining two nautical miles separation.

The results of the trial show that BVLOS operations are ideal for Class E airspace (Class E airspace exists from 14,500 mean sea level (MSL) to 18,000 MSL) because it presents a “greatly reduced risk” of encountering other crewed aircraft, according to Iridium. The firm believes a simplified minimum equipment list could enable an RPIC to safely monitor a mission, communicate with air traffic control and ensure safe instrument flight rules separation from other aircraft.

David Yoel, founder and CEO, American Aerospace, who partnered with Iridium to conduct the trial, said: “The Iridium network opens the door to a variety of new use cases for UAS that can be remotely piloted from a distant command centre.”

During the test flight, the team also studied factors such as latency and continuity of communications between satellite, LTE and radio links. It was found that at 1,500 feet above ground level, the reliability of Iridium satellite communication was superior to the LTE link, and the one preferred the aircraft command responses over satellite communication versus the 900 Mhz radio. 

Iridium said by expanding the flight trials and using a broader range of equipment and scenarios, regulators and operators could use them as a scalable path forward to monitored BVLOS operations.

Download Iridium’s whitepaper Monitored BVLOS: A New Model for UAS Integration in the National Airspace System.