flying safely in controlled airspace where they operate just like any other airspace user and easily meet the equipment requirements such as a transponder. So, from a drone perspective, the route to getting the equipment to operate safely in uncontrolled airspace is relatively straightforward. But for detect-and-avoid to be most effective the drone obviously needs other users to transmit a signal it can ‘see’. Hence the desire to increase the numbers of existing airspace users fitting electronic conspicuity. Many, but not all, future applications for drones will be at lower UK airspace levels, so building a fuller electronic real-time picture of operations in the airspace will be key, particularly among GA and military users.

Increasing the use of EC devices is only one part of the bigger ‘detect-and- avoid’ system, but it is one of the more crucial and effective ones. The CAA’s new innovation team has been working with a number of organisations and companies to help industry drive the issue forward. Earlier this year they published their roadmap for how BVLOS drone operations could become an everyday occurrence ( It sets out a clear roadmap of achieving BVLOS. Key to that map is industry testing and trials. As in all aspects of aviation such operations will never be allowed unless they meet acceptable safety levels. The CAA innovation team runs a ‘sandbox’ (a safe testing environment for evaluation) that enables organisations to run trials with its co-operation. Two of these current trials are directly helping to develop the


Regardless of what you think about drones they are now a large and ever-growing part of UK aviation. Their commercial applications grow every day and manufacturer DJI quotes nearly 300 lives saved throughout the world by drone operations.

Hundreds of UK companies are developing the sector into one of the fastest growing in aviation, and organisations from all over the world are moving here to take advantage of the testing and regulatory assistance being offered.

A PwC study in 2018 predicted that we would see over 76,000 drones operating in the UK by 2030 bringing £42bn into the economy and 628,000 jobs.

Over a third of the predicted 76,000 drones are expected to be operating in public service – healthcare, education etc.

UK innovation charity NESTA has been working with five cities (Bradford, London, Preston, Southampton and the West Midland) on how they could take advantage of the technology. As a result they believe public services in cities could save £1.1bn in 15 years.

Consumer research has revealed that there is significant public support for using drones in this way and more than 90% of the public expect drones to regularly undertake tasks such as traffic monitoring, powerline inspection and assisting farmers in the next six years.

Crop checking is just one of the fast-growing uses of drones

international understanding and development of BVLOS. The work with (see box out) is looking at how drone platforms themselves can use BVLOS.

One of the Blue Bear drone flights AUTUMN 2020

The second trial involves a specific airspace corridor to be used by both unmanned aircraft and traditional airspace users. Known as the National Beyond visual line of sight Experimentation Corridor (NBEC) it runs between Cranfield

Airport and the Blue Bear Systems research base in nearby Oakley. The team have been flying unmanned aircraft, in coordination with the airport, into Cranfield’s air traffic zone to show how these different types of operations could safely coexist in the near future. All of this work will feed into the bigger domestic and internal development work to make safe drone BVLOS flying an everyday occurrence.


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