The Future Looks Bright for This Drone Technology Provider From the Lion City

Drones are increasingly used across various industries due to their versatility and cost-efficiency. But the extensive use of drones poses the challenge of managing the airspace safely and efficiently. To address this issue, Heron AirBridge is at the forefront of developing cutting-edge UAS traffic management technology

By Ajay Choudhary

From left to right: Fabrice Ancey (CCO and co-founder) and Ryan Lee (CEO and co-founder)

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Drones … when people think of drones, also known as uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs), they often associate them with the military. But drone applications have expanded rapidly across a wide range of industries in recent years. In Japan, they have proven useful for disaster management by providing immediate information to first responders. Similarly, China uses drones for everything from deliveries, transportation, wildlife monitoring and safeguarding to construction site surveys and sterilizing public places to fight COVID-19.

Meet Heron AirBridge, the first UTM technology firm in Southeast Asia

Backed by the Singapore government, Heron AirBridge is an aviation technology developer specialized in drone missions and traffic management. Arising from an innovation project supported by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), it successfully built a prototype UAS traffic management (UTM) system capable of managing multiple drone operators, marking it as the first UTM technology company in Southeast Asia.

Heron AirBridge's system incorporates key features such as geofencing, traffic management and communication protocols that ensure seamless drone operation in the airspace. This innovative system allows airspace managers to safely integrate drones and significantly reduce the risk of collisions with piloted aircraft and othe accidents. It also allows drone operators to plan, monitor and effectively manage their flights in accordance with regulatory requirements.

The firm was established in 2021 after it was acquired from Australian defense and aerospace company Nova Systems. A bold move … especially considering that the buyout coincided with the coronavirus outbreak, which caused unprecedented disruptions to the global aviation industry and subsequent limited investments in UTM solutions by various stakeholders. But the buyout decision stemmed from Heron AirBridge co-founder Ryan Lee's strong belief in the future of drone technology and confidence in the capabilities of the company's management team, which has 70 collective years of military and civil aerospace expertise.

With this acquisition, Lee aims to position the business as a trailblazer in the field, competing with the best in the industry and setting new standards for others to follow. Since its incorporation, the drone startup has worked closely with regulators and industry partners to support Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) deployment in the region.

"What we are doing is not only vital to scaling drone operations safely to create value for stakeholders in the low-altitude airspace. The technologies we are developing have the potential to transform the way traditional air traffic is currently managed, which is still mired in processes and technologies developed over fifty years ago," Lee said. "As a Singaporean company based in Asia's aviation and technology hub, I also believe that we can establish a world-class Asian aviation technology company to break the current mould of the air traffic management industry dominated by Western companies."

All technologies are built with security first in mind. With support from its sister company Heron Technology, a leading cybersecurity services firm, Heron AirBridge has a clear competitive edge when it comes to offering reliable and secure solutions to a sector that emphasizes safety and security.

Heron AirBridge's prospects look very optimistic due to the significance of UTM technology for the success of the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) industry. AAM is an emerging sector that encompasses several types of air vehicles, such as air taxis, drones and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. These aerial vehicles necessitate the safe and efficient regulation of airspace, which is only possible through the deployment of UTM technology.

Global drone market taking flight

According to research, the global UTM market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 17.8%, from $0.86 billion in 2022 to $3.21 billion by 2030. The increasing adoption of drones for both commercial and non-commercial purposes, along with the integration of artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies, has led to a surge in demand for UTM systems, which are crucial for the safe and efficient operation of drones in the airspace.

The Asia Pacific UTM market is expected to grow at 19.1% CAGR and reach $510.69 million by 2030. China, Japan and India are at the forefront of drones' adoption for numerous applications.

Based on end-usage, the logistics and transportation segment dominates the UTM market due to rising drone deliveries. McKinsey reported astounding growth rates in commercial drone deliveries of 324% per annum from 2018 to 2021 and 192% in 2022, from just under half a million deliveries in 2021 to nearly 1.5 million in 2022.

Unquestionably, these statistics indicate a promising outlook for UTM technology businesses like Heron AirBridge.

Emerging leader in UTM technology

Heron AirBridge is well-positioned to become a dominant player in the rapidly expanding UTM market. Leveraging their extensive expertise in UTM technology and additional cybersecurity support from Heron Technology, Heron AirBridge offers a full suite of solutions for organizations seeking secure and efficient management of unmanned air traffic.

"The importance of UTM technology is further re-inforced by the recent introduction of new regulations and standards that will create robust UTM requirements to guarantee the industry's full commercial viability," Fabrice Ancey, CCO and co-founder of Heron AirBridge, added. "AirBridge is one such system that will provide key UTM services for the benefit of the entire AAM value chain."

Last year, Heron AirBridge commercially debuted its AirBridge drone mission and traffic management platform following the success of its UTM prototype system. To serve a broader spectrum of airspace users and stakeholders, AirBridge is built and operated in accordance with the relevant ASTM and ISO standards. It includes state-of-the-art features such as fixed-route and free space trajectory-based routing and scheduling capabilities, automatic strategic deconfliction and real-time monitoring, making it the best-in-class drone operator solution in the region.

Its strong focus on security and safety makes Heron AirBridge the go-to partner for stakeholders in the UAV industry. Just recently, the firm inked a partnership agreement with two leading organizations in the aviation and shipping industry, the Singapore Association of Shipsuppliers and Services and CWT Aerospace, to collaborate on building maritime drone operation infrastructure.

More exciting collaborations are ahead with global satellite telecommunication corporation, Inmarsat, on beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) connectivity solutions and with King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang to support the research and development of UTM concepts and technologies in Thailand.

With its strategic positioning and commitment to innovation, Heron AirBridge is poised to meet the growing demand for advanced UTM solutions and emerge as a leading player in the industry.

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