UK test site to run trials of unmanned drone traffic management system

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The first flight tests to mix unmanned drones with regular manned air traffic in UK airspace from an aerodrome is to run at the recently-launched Aircraft Innovation Centre in Goodwod, Sussex early next year, after the UK Government awarded funding for the project.

The live trial will demonstrate Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operations in non-segregated airspace and involves drone operations management company ANRA Technologies, air traffic management company Trax International, done avionics supplier uAvionix and flight-tracking provider Plane Finder.

When flying unmanned drones BVLOS in the UK, a temporary danger area (TDA) has to be set up to segregate them from other aircraft. However, as the use of unmanned drones increases, TDAs are seen as impractical and to pose a safety risk.

The project aims to deliver an operating environment for unmanned drones which does not need a TDA. This will involve demonstrating a so-called “detect and avoid” (D&A) capability in the unmanned drones and presenting data about all airspace users to the drone operator.

To be deemed successful, the (D&A) capability will have to be as good as or superior to the see and avoid capability of conventional aircraft under Visual Flight Rules.

These drone technologies will be harmonized on ANRA’s drone traffic management system to improve safety and enable BVLOS operations. The project will also take advantage of the UK CAA’s intention to use 978Mhz as a second ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance broadcast) frequency to share surveillance and flight information data with other airspace users.

The live trial will be operated from the Aviation Innovation Centre, which was opened at Goodwood Aerodrome in Sussex, UK, last month. Although other trials of BVLOS have taken place in the UK, this will be the first to be run from an aerodrome in live airspace.

Anthony Venetz, operations manager at the Aviation Innovation Centre said, “If this trial is successful and is approved by the CAA, it will enable us to fly BVLOS flights without TDAs from Goodwood. The airspace can be used more effectively and companies can come here to test their UAS more easily.

“It’s really the next step in bringing the UK up to speed with where the USA and places in Europe are with this technology.”

The introduction of systems that integrate the flying of unmanned drones into existing airspace, known as Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) systems, is seen as presenting several challenges by industry insiders. Issues include the predicted volume of unmanned drone operations across both controlled and uncontrolled airspace, which could be on a scale comparable if not greater to that of present-day manned air traffic.

Furthermore, UTM requires situational awareness of all aircraft operations to be shared between manned aircraft operators and unmanned drone operators in an efficient and effective way.

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before eventually becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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