Xwing to partner with FAA on wildfire air traffic management research


Autonomous aviation company Xwing is to work with the FAA and NASA on a way to manage the unmanned drones and general aviation aircraft used to extinguish wildfires in the USA.

The Crosscutting Operations Strategy and Technical Assessment (COSTA) research program is exploring the management of large commercial UAS (unmanned aerial systems) and general aviation (GA) aircraft when transiting complex operating environments, such as Fire Traffic Areas (FTAs) during wildfire suppression events.

More than 5,000 wildfires occur annually in California alone and US agencies are trying to leverage new technologies and services to best address and manage these natural disasters. Current methods use dynamic flight operations that require manual coordination among helicopters, small drones, large drones, and manned aircraft to safely and simultaneously drop water/fire suppression in a small area.

Recognizing these gaps, NASA is collaborating with disaster response agencies and the FAA to integrate UAS and UTM-based information services to improve disaster response efficiency.

As part of the collaborative effort, the FAA and its partners at Xwing and the Alaska Center for UAS Integration are evaluating information-centric approaches to improve the management of traffic in the vicinity of FTAs, including general aviation and commercial UAS operations.

The flight testing for COSTA will take place in Northern California before May 2023.

CEO of Xwing, Marc Piette said, “This project will provide us with a more holistic view on how to best integrate large UAS in the existing National Airspace System.

“Leveraging UAS, we have the potential to make everything from wildfire fighting to oceanic operations more efficient and safe. We believe the data that we collect from these operations will be essential to helping the FAA and NASA bring unmanned flights to more types of operations in the aviation industry.”

The flight testing will use Xwing’s operational autonomous flight technology, deployed on a Cessna Caravan aircraft, with a safety pilot onboard for the missions. Missions will focus on integrating large UAS into flight environments that include interactions between general aviation, commercial UAS, and disaster response air operations such as wildfire events.

The goal of the project is to evaluate how the aircraft and remote operators interoperate with other aircraft, and air traffic control in very active and dynamic environments.  Partners such as AirSpace Integration and ATA LLC will support in the management of flight data, integrations with other FAA systems, and supporting operational flight trails.

The data collected by Xwing will be used to analyze aspects of the firefighting operations such as response times between an Air Traffic Controller (ATC) and autonomous aircraft and how remote operators use information-centric services to fly in challenging, high-stake operating environments amid climate crises.

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About Author


Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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