Israel emergency ruling mandates UTM connection for drones above 200 grams. Here’s how to comply

In an emergency ruling published in late November, the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI) made it illegal for drones weighing more than 200 grams to fly without a UTM connection.

UTM (short for UAS Traffic Management), is the three-letter acronym for a system of drone air traffic control, and it’s been on the minds of aviation regulators across almost every country. Israel just happens to be moving arguably the fastest.

Under CAAI’s regulation 10916, which was published on Nov. 23, 2023, it is now illegal to fly any drone that weighs 200 grams or more at takeoff in what’s considered very low level (VLL) airspace — unless it is connected to an authorized UTM network and continuously communicates with that network throughout the flight.

As far as what that continuous communication entails, drones must broadcast operational data as defined by ASTM F3411-22a, which includes its serial number, time stamps, and its location, altitude, velocity and direction. ASTM, which stands for the American Society for Testing and Materials, is an internationally-recognized organization that publishes production and testing standards for products across various industries. (Within the drone industry, it’s published standards for products including remote ID modules and drone parachutes.)

Also as a component of Israel’s new law, UTM data must be able to be shared with certain Israeli government organizations such as the military, police, intelligence services and other homeland security forces, at their request. 

200 grams? What about drones under 250 grams?

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The DJI Mini 4 Pro drone weighs 249 grams.

One aspect of the Israel UTM law in particular stands out as a bit different. In Israel, all drones weighing more than 200 grams must comply with the UTM connection rules. That’s a departure from the 250 gram threshold that has practically become standard across many other drone laws worldwide.

In the U.S., drones under 250 grams do not need to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for recreational operations, nor do they need to be Remote ID compliant. In some countries, drones that weigh under 250 grams can carry out more ‘complex’ operations that larger drones cannot legally do, such as flying beyond visual line of sight or over people. 

That led to powerful demand for drones under 250 grams, including the DJI Mini 4 Pro and the Autel Evo Nano drone. It’s definitely not a coincidence that, when the DJI Mavic Mini launched in 2019, it clocked in at exactly 249 grams.

But in Israel, even those tiny, practically ‘toy’ drones must broadcast UTM connections.

How to comply with the Israeli UTM connection law

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A visual representation of High Lander’s Universal UTM Solution

If you’re flying drones in Israel, your best bet to comply is by using Vega UTM, a software program built by Tel Aviv-based drone company High Lander Aviation.

High Lander’s Vega UTM software creates what are essentially “control tower regions,” which monitor and display real-time aerial activity, providing users with up-to-the-minute notifications of relevant airspace data. It’s also able to automatically approve or deny flight plans. In the event of a denial, it can even suggest flight plan alterations. The system also integrates with counter-drone systems.

To connect to Vega UTM, you have three options:

  1. Fly a drone that already has built-in Remote-ID (such as DJI’s Mavic 3 Enterprise series)
  2. Attach a Remote-ID transmitter to the body of your drone (check out my guide to the best Remote ID modules)
  3. Use Orion DFM, High Lander’s drone fleet management solution. 

Here’s another interesting tidbit: High Lander was the first company to receive a license from the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI) to authorize drone flights throughout the country. High Lander received such license just days after the emergency ruling came out on Nov. 23.

“We are very proud to see Vega UTM begin to fulfill the purpose for which it was designed – managing uncrewed aviation on a national scale,” said Ido Yahalomi, CTO and co-founder of High Lander in a prepared statement. “The platform’s powerful monitoring, coordination and information sharing capabilities made it the perfect selection for the first recipient of this license.” 

What Israel’s UTM connection law means for the future of drones

The CAAI’s decision marks the first time that a UTM connection has been made a prerequisite of approval for drone flights, according to High Lander. Alon Abelson, CEO and co-founder of High Lander, is calling the CAAI’s ruling “the beginning of a new era.”

That said, most other countries are far behind Israel, though a handful have stood out for making certain types of progress. Lithuania’s Air Navigation Service Provider, Oro Navigacija, recently solidified a single company called Frequentis that would provide its UTM solution across the country’s airspace. In India, the government has recognized the India Institute of Technology Hyderabad as a key site for testing UTM, where it’s working with ANRA Technologies.

The UTM process in the U.S. is slow and steady. In July 2023, the FAA published a UTM Implementation Plan. That was in response to requirements from Congress in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. In the July 2023, memo, the FAA outlined its vision for near-term and long-term UTM plans — while also calling out policy gaps that need resolution perform any sort of UTM ecosystem in the U.S. can fully operate. 

But perhaps with Israel leading the charge — in an emergency charge, at that — things might move along in other countries, too. 

“We expect to see regulators worldwide following this lead and finally enabling uncrewed aviation to reach its full potential while maintaining safety,” Abelson said.

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