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New report points way to shared airspace between drones and traditional aircraft

Our new report lays the groundwork for an Unmanned Aircraft Traffic Management (UTM) System to allow commercial drone usage in the UK alongside traditional manned aircraft.

The report is a result of a year-long Department for Transport sponsored project, working alongside NATS, Altitude Angel, ANRA Technologies, Cranfield University, the Satellite Applications Catapult and Thales UK. It includes the architecture for an open access UTM system and scenarios for important areas such as managing permissions to fly drones in restricted airspace and multiple drone operations in in uncontrolled airspace.

There is a huge global opportunity for countries who can successfully accommodate commercial drone operations which can fly “beyond line of sight” of the user alongside other aircraft. As drone technology develops in areas such as automation, and operators become more numerous and sophisticated, new opportunities are emerging in areas such as infrastructure inspection, drone deliveries, agriculture and even personal transport. It is thought the sector could be worth £127bn globally.

Preparation has already begun on the next phase of the project. The CPC, along with Altitude Angel ANRA Technologies, GE Aviation and AiRXOS, NATS, Snowflake Software, and Thales will run a series of technical workshops in order to mature the development of the Open-Access UTM framework to enable demonstrations of the future operational use of UTM.

The CPC has called for industry-wide collaboration to pull the necessary elements together to enable drones to operate commercially in the UK alongside all other aircraft – especially given Europe and the US have already made progress in this area. Mark Westwood, Chief Technology Officer, Connected Places Catapult explained:

“As the technology matures, twin pressures of increasingly widespread drone usage independent of a nationally agreed framework, and a strong desire within the industry to investigate the art of the possible, are driving an urgent need for a coordinated approach across stakeholders in government, businesses and regulators. 

We need to make sure the UK is ready to accommodate this quickly emerging industry and UTM is recognised as a vital component to facilitate the safe and efficient integration of unmanned vehicles into the airspace. We’re hoping actors from across multiple sectors will engage with our research and future aspects of the project to get the job done so the UK drone industry can flourish.”

You can download the full report here. If you would like to take part in the UTM project workshops or find out more about the project please contact drones@cp.catapult.org.uk.

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