ELECTRONIC CONSPICUITY Bell's Nexus 4EX air taxi
Major companies such as Hyundai, Bell with its Nexus 4EX and Boeing have well developed programmes
because there are major changes looming in the use of the UK’s airspace. Right now, like many things in life, the technological speed of advance in aviation is probably running at its fastest rate for decades and the days when flying was simply the preserve of traditional aircraft, balloons, gliders, paragliders and the like are disappearing over the horizon. Recent advances in propulsion, energy, lightweight materials and control and stability systems mean that many types of new aircraft, small and large, manned and unmanned will be taking to the skies in the next few years.
Fancy taking an Uber-like ‘air taxi’ from A to B? You'll know by now that’s no longer the stuff of science fiction; several major companies such as Hyundai, which has teamed up with Uber, Bell with its Nexus 4EX and Boeing with its
Autonomous Passenger Air Vehicle, have well developed programmes, so air taxis in some form could potentially take off from 2023 onwards for both recreation and business.
Meanwhile drones, both private and commercial, are now commonplace (who’d have said that a few years ago…) and their use is growing on average by 25% per year in the UK — there are now nearly 6,000 licensed commercial drone operators and many others who aren’t yet licensed. Then there are innovative organisations such as Amazon, currently experimenting with drones for ‘30 minutes click to delivery’ of packages, and the National University of Ireland Galway which, in a world’s first, used a drone to fly ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (expect to hear more of the cumbersome acronym BVLOS before long…) to deliver medicine to a diabetes
patient at a remote island some 13.5 miles away before collecting a blood sample and returning.
As well as the coming potential of ‘flying taxis’, Boeing is also fostering the development of near-vertical take-off and landing ‘personal flying devices’ capable of flying at least 20 miles with its ‘GoFly’ competition and there’s $2million dollars in prizes at stake (you can find out more about that project at goflyprize.co
m). So the skies are set to get rather busy in the coming years and we haven’t even talked about potential space launch sites in Sutherland in the Highlands, Cornwall and Prestwick.
But, as with all advances in life and technology, there are issues and the major question now is how to integrate all this safely into the UK’s current airspace system where capacity is already at a premium and based on arrangements almost 50 years old.
With aircraft in controlled airspace already using transponders for air traffic control and situational awareness, the new look at electronic conspicuity mainly concerns flights in uncontrolled airspace — though it should also have a spin-off of providing access to other areas of airspace for GA pilots, but more on that later.
Photos: James Mattil / shutterstock.co
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