In a UK first, Unmanned Drones have been flown safely alongside manned aircraft. Overseen by UK’s air navigation service provider NATS, Operation Zenith, an ambitious drone demonstration conducted at Manchester Airport, has shown that drones can be flown safely alongside manned aircraft in controlled airspace.
Operation Zenith was organised to showcase the real-time integration of air traffic management (ATM) and unmanned traffic management (UTM) in a controlled airspace. The trial was aimed at regulating the drone traffic in the sensitive area such as an airport and open up the skies to commercial airspace globally. During the trial, GuardianUTM O/S supplied all parties with a real-time ‘moving map’ of all aerial activity, which the UTM system also used to send advance warning to nearby automated drones or the pilots in charge to ensure they can safely operate in close proximity.
Simultaneously, the UTM system was fully integrated into the air traffic control tower at Manchester Airport and offered air traffic controllers a comprehensive view of all approved and unapproved activities. During the operation drones were used to carry out runway inspections, deliver equipment and obey instructions to “clear the skies” for a Police Helicopter. The Operation Zenith demonstration was aviation industry collaboration led by NATS, global unmanned traffic management (UTM) aviation Technology Company Altitude Angel and Manchester Airport, the third-busiest airport in the UK.
Live-streamed to an invited audience at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, Operation Zenith is the UK’s first contribution to the recently-launched European Commission’s U-Space Demonstrator Network.
Employing air traffic management systems and technology interfaces that are compliant with U-Space programme requirements, the success of Operation Zenith provides a realistic view of a future in which UAVs can be flown safely within visual line of sight and beyond (VLOS/BVLOS) in integrated airspace.
Alastair Muir, NATS Safety Director, said: “Operation Zenith has been an outstanding success in bringing together the manned and unmanned aviation industry to shine a light on our vision for the future of aviation. NATS is committed to working towards creating a foundation service to ensure the safe and efficient use of airspace.”
Richard Parker, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Altitude Angel, said: “We are very pleased with the performance of GuardianUTM O/S, our airspace management solution, during Operation Zenith. Designed for deployment by ANSPs who want to offer the types of capabilities demonstrated today, the software successfully managed a busy and complex airspace, fully automated, during a series of scenarios designed to be representative of real-world situations that the industry hasn’t previously tackled.”
Chris Wild, Head of Airfield Operations at Manchester Airport, said: “We are delighted how the demonstration came together. Manchester Airport welcomes 28 million passengers a year and handles over 200,000 air transport movements and therefore drone use, regulation and technological mitigation has been a real focus for us over the last few years.”
NATS will deploy GuardianUTM O/S as its national UTM operating system from December to offer fair and equitable access to the airspace for all.