In a UK first, Unmanned Drones have been flown safely alongside manned aircraft in a demonstration at Manchester Airport.
Overseen by UK NATS, the UK’s leading provider of air traffic control services, Operation Zenith was designed to showcase the ability of unmanned aerial vehicles to work safely within an airport environment and around manned aircraft.
During the operation drones were used to carry out runway inspections, deliver equipment and obey instructions to “clear the skies” for a Police Helicopter and the whole event was Live-streamed to an invited audience at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London.
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. With more than 25 key players from across the aviation industry cooperating on this project, it has been possible for us to create a safe environment in which drones and commercial aircraft are able to co-exist safely in controlled airspace.
Operation Zenith is the UK’s first contribution to the recently-launched European Commission’s U-Space Demonstrator Network and as well as NATS was delivered by global unmanned traffic management (UTM) aviation technology company Altitude Angel and Manchester Airport, the UK’s third-busiest airport.
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.
“We believe GuardianUTM O/S is now the most fully-featured UTM system in existence, capable of acting as the vital middleware layer in the emerging drone ecosystem today, bringing together aviation and technology stakeholders around core capabilities including registration and identity, automated decision-making, remote drone control, real-time communications, ATM integration and even rogue drone detection.
“We look forward to supporting NATS’ expansion plans as it rolls-out the Airspace User Portal (AUP) powered by GuardianUTM.”
Chris Wild, Head of Airfield Operations at Manchester Airport, said: “We are delighted how the demonstration came together to showcase how manned and un-manned aviation can be undertaken collaboratively within controlled airspace.
“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. As an airport we are fully supportive of co-operative drone operations and we are committed to influencing regulation and embracing new technology that allows piloted and unmanned aviation to take place in harmony.
“Zenith demonstrated how this can be achieved and as an airport we were excited to be part of and witness the interoperability across all the required elements of drone mitigation.”