Imagining the Airspace of the Future

Realizing the potential of drones is key to any roadmap for the skies. They have a vital role to play in an integrated transport plan, alongside smarter, quieter, cleaner, greener aircraft. So, what does deployment of drones really mean for the future of UK airspace, in practice?

There is much more to mixed-use airspace than just the vehicles and craft themselves. Developing supporting ground infrastructure, regulation and control systems is essential to safe and successful operation. Innovative simulation in synthetic environments, as well as real-world applications, can help us understand how these moving parts interact and align.

The Airspace of the Future project pools extensive expertise and experience across the UK to ensure routine operational drone services can be coordinated safely, on a regional and national basis. It works to support fully identified end-user requirements, in a process validated by robust business cases, as well as stakeholder and public engagement.

Holistic ‘system of systems’ approach

Airspace of the Future is one of a number of projects as part of Future Flight Challenge, delivered by Innovate UK, on behalf of UKRI. The consortium consists of nine partners: Thales, Cranfield University, Cranfield Airport Operations, Inmarsat, Altitude Angel, Ocado Group, Blue Bear, Satellite Applications Catapult and Connected Places Catapult.

The group are working together to integrate drone services within the wider UK transport ecosystem, ensuring it happens safely, efficiently and in an environmentally positive way.

The breadth of the Airspace of the Future study extends across key interlinked domains of regulatory framework development and compliance, enabling technologies and toolsets (like digital twins and simulation). It also seeks to address key associated societal issues, such as validation of public acceptance of commercial drone operations.

The project adopts a holistic ‘system of systems’ approach to address interdependencies between drones, aircraft, the airspace and wider aviation ecosystem, which also includes regulators, traffic management systems, service providers and end users.

Electrification, aviation and autonomy

Future Flight Challenge is funded by £125M from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, matched by £175M from industry. Its goal is to develop greener ways to fly, such as hybrid- and all-electric aircraft, plus drone services. To achieve this, it brings together technologies in electrification, aviation and autonomy that will create new capabilities and modes of air travel, thereby increasing mobility, whilst reducing the environmental impact of aviation.

Aims of the Challenge are to:

  • create the aviation system of the future;
  • increase mobility, improve connectivity and reduce congestion;
  • advance electric and autonomous flight technologies to help the UK achieve net zero;
  • increase UK manufacturing and service opportunities to attract technology investment.

For a full introduction to Airspace of the Future, complete with diagrams and details of core technologies and applications, plus use-cases, please watch the explainer webinar.