Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) solutions are a fast growing sector in the drone industry right now – as evidenced by new funding for Airspace Link. An announcement on TechCrunch says that the Detroit-based startup has just won an additional $4 million on top of initial seed funding to bring their services to market, having already received FAA approval to provide low altitude authorization and notification capabilities (LAANC).
Airspace Link’s differentiator in the increasingly crowded field of airspace management is a partnership with ESRI, the geographic information giant, and a deep integration with the ground-based mapping tools that most local and state governments use. This combination of airspace intelligence, which could inform pilots of potential conflicts with manned flights and other unmanned flights; and ground intelligence, which could inform pilots of the locations of parks, schools and other areas that might be off limits, makes sense. As local governments fight for more influence over where drones can and cannot fly, pilots may need a way to be informed of local temporary or permanent restrictions, such as flight over parade routes or town offices.
There is a huge market for vendors that are able to establish themselves with local and state governments, and it’s a space that many UTM providers are going after. AirMap, Kittyhawk, and other players already offering a service have a big lead right now; they’ve had time to develop their offering and partnerships as regulations have evolved. The drone space, however, is still very new – drone delivery is still in its infancy and the majority of commercial drone applications are still relegated to exurban areas and industrial sites. Flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and flight over people are not yet widely allowed. A clear framework for the role of state and local drone regulations has not yet been established, and surrounding technologies like remote ID for drones haven’t been finalized or implemented. All of that means that today’s new player could very well be tomorrow’s frontrunner: which is what makes new funding announcements worthy of note.