"We're the only ones in this niche"


An international foundation set up in Lausanne during the summer of 2016 is aiming to standardise air traffic control for drones. The General-Secretary of the Global Unmanned Traffic Management Association, Benoît Curdy, talks to us about it.

(From "Horizons" no. 112 March 2017)​​​

What's the aim of your association?

We want to define the technical standards that will allow the air-traffic management of manned and unmanned aircraft. The focus is on professional and commercial journeys measured in tens of kilometres and that may involve air space in two countries.

What are you working on exactly?

It's an extremely complex field with many different actors involved. First we are going to publish an overview of the ecosystem and the challenges to be overcome. Then we'll look at things like drone identification: what format will the identifier take? How is it registered and communicated? The aims are sky security on the one hand, and technical interoperability on the other.

How do you set yourselves apart from the giant American association AUVSI?

AUVSI grew from the military use of drones, and is principally a lobby. We are an industrial association: we are about growing the market through the introduction of technical solutions that meet legislative requirements, not about influencing them. It's a niche and we are the only ones working on it. If not, we'd have never got started!

Have you reached the critical mass needed for defining standards?

We're on the right path: we've gone from 15 to 40 members in the space of six months. We have brought together the leading manufacturers of drones and communications systems, the suppliers of the data necessary for navigation, such as weather and map data, and the air controllers and representatives of various governments. We're very decentralised: the regulators come with their requests, manufacturers discuss possible technical solutions, and we try to find a consensus on what is feasible.

Why did you choose Lausanne?

Because there are a number of drone startups there, not to mention NCCR Robotics, which is led by EPFL. For our foreign members, Switzerland is tiny. They can visit Lausanne as readily as they can Zurich.