ICAO aims to develop a common global framework for traffic systems for drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The United Nations aviation organization announced the development at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Xponential 2017 Conference in Dallas May 10.

The Montreal-based organization will develop what are known as UAS Traffic Management (UTM) systems. The initiative is part of a work program that has been assigned to ICAO by its 191 member states.

UTM systems are a tool for managing low-altitude airspace and include the registration and identification of UAVs. Their creation has already been proposed by many ICAO member states.

“We are issuing a request for information on what we believe are the top priorities that must be addressed by states, industry and academia in order to develop safe and efficient UTM systems,” ICAO’s Remotely Piloted Aviation Systems (RPAS) program manager Leslie Cary said.

“This will allow further developments to focus on better defined issues, whether technical, operational or legal. It will also ensure safety continues to remain the driving factor. ICAO is the natural agency to be gathering together the best and brightest from governments and industry to define the problem so that global solutions can be proposed, debated and agreed.”

Following ICAO’s initial work on the subject of drones, states and international organizations asked it to expand its work program to shape the framework of global regulations and guidance related to a much broader range of drone operations than had previously considered within its remit.

The proliferation of UAVs has led to fears that they could bring down an airliner if they are ingested into an engine or smash a flight deck window at a critical moment, such as final approach.

“Today we’re seeing many new proposals and innovations emerging in terms of both aircraft and operations at low altitudes, including drones and personal flight vehicles,” Cary said. “It’s in everyone’s interest to determine sooner rather than later how and where they can safely operate, so as to minimize all related noise and privacy concerns. The sooner this framework is agreed upon globally, the sooner the industry will be able to align their developing UAS businesses within harmonized UTM systems.”

ICAO has been engaged in the field of RPAS and UAVs for almost a decade. Some years ago it formed a UAS Advisory Group composed of experts from varying backgrounds, including industry, international organizations and state regulators.

This led to the production of an online toolkit to provide states, operators and remote pilots with best practices and regulatory guidance and the publication of an RPAS Manual containing extensive guidance material for states and other aviation stakeholders.

ICAO will soon be releasing a Concept of Operations to inform the global aviation community of its vision for RPAS regulation, and the UN agency is developing the legal framework for the international operation of certificated, instrument flight rules (IFR)-capable RPAS.

Alan Dron alandron@adepteditorial.com