- Bringing together more than 40 consortia of aeronautical pioneers
- UKRI: Future flight challenge
Future Flight Challenge
The 'Future Flight Challenge' brings together more than 40 consortia of aeronautical pioneers to explore inventive new ways to achieve greener flight, improve connectivity, alleviate congestion, and ultimately create new ways to travel by air.
Innovate UK - the Government's innovation agency that funds research projects - recently launched a programme that aims to start answering these fundamental questions. The £125m four-year programme, in three phases, seeks to demonstrate a fully integrated aviation system in 2024.
NATS is proud to be part of five of the consortia. The first three are investigating how automated flights could safely improve connectivity:
- Project West of England, led by Atkins, is investigating how Urban Air Mobility (UAM) can safely transport people by air within an urban environment around Bristol. Exploring how air traffic management (ATM) and unmanned air traffic management (UTM) will be integrated within an airport environment is the main focus for NATS. UAM vehicles require a location to take-off and land, but this won't look like the conventional runways for aircraft. UAMs will require vertiports, so it is important to understand the surrounding airspace to integrate these new airspace users.
- Project CAELUS, led by AGS airports, is modelling how a UTM system could enable automated drone deliveries to overcome the challenges that the healthcare sector faces in getting medical parcels delivered quickly and efficiently within a rural environment in Scotland. As part of the project NATS is identifying the operational requirements for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations in controlled airspace. The project will aim to identify how BVLOS operations can work alongside current aircraft and other airspaces users, to enable the use from Glasgow Airport to hospitals.
- Project Shimano, led by Malloy Aeronautics, is exploring how a novel radio beacon system could be deployed near Oxford to aid autonomous vehicle navigation. It is examining the use case for respective needs and considering the necessary planning and operational procedures required for the relevant trials and locations. The expectation is that use-case examination would allow requirements to be captured for long-term integrated air space, identifying the appropriate changes required to support fully integrated ATM/UTM operations.
While all three have similar aims, the airspace they are working in, infrastructures, communications, navigation and surveillance capabilities, and technical and operational requirements are all very different, which is where NATS comes in. We'll explore how UTM and UAM concepts could integrate with the existing ATM system to make these a reality.
The other two projects we're involved in are focused on technology and data:
- Project DBAS, led by SEES-AI, aimed to develop and validate a BVLOS aviation system, which involved developing a master control room capable of providing back-up operational support to remote pilots using the system. With more airspace users in our skies, NATS will need to understand and identify the electronic conspicuity requirements for airspace users to ensure a safe operation for all. This level of understanding for ATM/UTM integration means all airspace users will be identifiable through a master control room. To create a control room like this NATS needs to explore the requirements around operational services.
- Project Fly 2 Plan, led by Heathrow Airport, seeks to build a master data-sharing platform to provide all airspace users with equitable access to data, in order to enable seamless integration of UTM and UTM with manned flights. This decentralised data system will need use-case identification and analysis, so NATS will be gaining an understanding of how this can be used and the potential stakeholders. The first part of this project will focus on how the concept could work and understanding its impact, as well as determining what technology would be required to implement it safely in the current ATM operations.
These concepts are not entirely new, but the potential to realise them has never been as close as it is today.
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