Google spin-off Wing has made history in drone delivery. As the first recipient of a Part 135 certificate to operate as a commercial drone airline in the U.S., they’ve brought drone delivery out of the realm of emergencies and made it available to consumers: delivering local food, products, drugstore supplies and even library books to the doorsteps of suburban homes.
Throughout the process of negotiating with aviation authorities around the world, Wing has acquired a deep understanding of what it takes to integrate commercial drone flights into the skies. The company has gathered data on more than 100,000 flights; they’ve received feedback from customers and surrounding communities; and they’ve performed delivery operations safely and accurately. In Australia, Finland, and the U.S., tens of thousands of customers have used the service over the last two years.
All of that experience has contributed to the development of their other, less-well known to the public but no less important, offering: OpenSky, Wing’s unmanned traffic management (UTM) solutions. A version of OpenSky available to consumers launched last year in Australia: OpenSky is what Wing uses to manage their drone delivery programs. The system provides complex flight planning mechanisms, deconfliction, and communication with airspace authorities.
Reinaldo Negron is Wing’s Head of UTM, and co-president of the Global UTM Association (GUTMA.) Negron joined Wing in 2016, when UTM was still a concept being discussed with NASA, a long way from being a real solution used to support a consumer drone delivery program. “It’s been really exciting to go from paper to real life,” says Negron.
Open Skies for All
Wing has taken a unique and open approach to developing UTM: they believe there is room for – and a need for – multiple suppliers. “We take a collaborative approach,” says Negron. “We don’t think there is one system that applies for every type of flight, for every application – we think it will take an ecosystem to help this entire industry take off.”
At the heart of the approach is an understanding that the drone industry includes a vast array of different operations: drone delivery may need a different type of system than inspection drones do, recreational flyers have different requirements than commercial drone operators. “We think that this federated approach, involving private industry, is necessary,” Negron explains. “It would be too difficult for one federally funded system to develop as quickly as needed to support all
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