Safe skies for all
The future of aviation is here, and reshaping the way we fly. Emerging aircraft types, including electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles, commonly referred to as ‘electric air taxis’, and drones, are changing the way we use our skies.
These technologies have the potential to revolutionise emergency services, business, and personal transportation.
Adapting to these changes while avoiding disruption to existing aviation will require a whole new way of managing airspace.
At NATS, our focus is on ensuring the UK’s skies are safe and accessible for everyone. We’re committed to integrating new airspace users alongside conventional crewed aircraft, to ensure all users can operate safely alongside each other.
Integration will be at the heart of that future advanced airspace, which is why our efforts are focused on developing new air traffic management infrastructure, services and techniques to ensure all customers are safely and seamlessly integrated.
The advanced concepts of future flight will inevitably require new levels of digitalisation and automation, so we’re also developing new tools to future-proof our systems and provide safe and secure air traffic control services for everyone who wants to fly any type of aircraft in our skies – including those with no pilot onboard.
Our vision for integrated airspace
The number of uncrewed aircraft in our skies is growing quickly. Accommodating them, while avoiding disruption to existing aviation, will require a new way of managing airspace.
The CAA recognises the potential and the positive changes that would follow from opening the skies to new users - improvements in medical deliveries, surveying, linking remote areas to urban – and, as the UKs leading provider of air navigation services, they have asked NATS to propose how it can be achieved.
In line with the Airspace Modernisation Strategy, we are developing NATS OpenAir, an integrated traffic management solution that extends the fundamental services we already provide. We believe that NATS OpenAir can meet the needs of new airspace users through building the foundation for increased automation and the digitisation of air traffic services.
In our special episode of Altitude at Drone X, we talk to people from across the industry doing fascinating work on aviation's leading frontier and to understand how airspace integration will be a catalyst to growth and innovation.
Have your say on the future of airspace
NATS envisions a future where different types of aircraft can coexist seamlessly in a single unified airspace. NATS OpenAir is our proposal for achieving that safely, sustainably and securely.
However, we need your input to develop it further.
That’s why we will conduct a comprehensive consultation, inviting stakeholders from across the industry to help us refine the NATS OpenAir concept.
Register your interest in receiving more information about the consultation by completing our form below:
The world of drones is rapidly evolving, and one of the exciting developments in this field is Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations.
To progress collaboration, innovation and responsible use of advancing technology, the BVLOS Operations Forum was established by NATS to bring the leading operators together. It has become a crucial platform for collectively advancing BVLOS operations.
What is the BVLOS Operations Forum?
A NATS-led initiative that brings together operators from across the BVLOS sector. Its primary goal is to collectively advance BVLOS operations by addressing regulatory, technical and operational challenges.
As the Forum continues to grow and collaborate with industry and government stakeholders, we hope to bring more exciting developments and contribute to a safer, more efficient and connected world. This isn’t just an initiative, but a gateway to a future where we allow for a more integrated sky.
Advanced Air Mobility
Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) is an exciting concept that uses electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles to transport passengers and cargo in a clean, safe and sustainable electric air taxi network.
NATS is working closely with the world’s leading manufacturers and operators to determine how to achieve sustainable operations in the UK. We are seeking to get users flying in the earliest possible timescales using existing procedures. Thereafter we anticipate it will be necessary to gradually increase the level of automation and systemisation as demand grows.
With NATS’ expertise of managing complex airspace, we have led the airspace management work of several research projects that have explored how eVTOLs can be integrated into the network, including the London UAM project and the Air Mobility Ecosystem Consortium project, funded by the Future Flight Challenge.
Bringing our expertise to projects like this means we can help to shape the skies of the future and find new, sustainable ways of utilising our airspace.
Future Flight Challenge
NATS is a leading partner in the Future Flight Challenge, a £300 million R&D programme, launched in 2019 and co-funded by government and industry, which is helping to build the ecosystem needed to accelerate the introduction of advanced air mobility, drones, and other new aircraft types in the UK.
NATS has been a part of several Future Flight Challenge Projects through the course of the programme, during which we have collaborated with industry, academia, government, and regulators to develop new ways of connecting people, transporting goods, and delivering services in a safe and sustainable way.
As part of Project DBAS, we built a ground-breaking ‘Master Control Room’ concept to co-ordinate a range of airspace users, including electric air-taxis, drones and commercial space operators. In Project CAELUS, we are developing the airspace procedures needed to enable drone deliveries of essential medical supplies in Scotland. In Project AMEC, we are developing innovative technology solutions to streamline flight approvals and establish integrated air traffic management capabilities for advanced air mobility flights.
Our air traffic management expertise is helping us to develop innovative solutions to support the next generation of aviation.
Since November 2019 it has been a legal requirement in the UK for anyone responsible for a drone or unmanned aircraft weighing between 250g and 20kg to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and pass an online education package. Further guidance on this is provided in the resources and FAQS below:
Controlled airspace requirements (Class A,B,C,D,E) do not apply to UAS operating within the Open category, however a number of airspace restrictions exist within the UK and these apply equally to both unmanned and manned aircraft. These areas are referred to as either: Prohibited Areas, Restricted Areas or Danger Areas.
Within the Specific category, an operator may be required to obtain permission to enter controlled airspace within the terms of the authorisation. This is dependent on the type of operation and the mitigations provided within the safety case.
Information about Flight Restriction Zones (FRZs), including interactive maps highlighting all UAS restriction zones, can be found on the AIS website https://nats-uk.ead-it.com/cms-nats/opencms/en/uas-restriction-zones
Please allow up to 14 days for your flight authorisation to come through although, if the airspace area in which you wish to fly is especially sensitive, your application process may take longer.
It is a legal requirement to have two IDs in place before flying most drones or model aircraft outdoors in the UK. These are issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and can be obtained at https://register-drones.caa.co.uk.
If you want to fly your drone inside any aerodrome Flight Restriction Zone, or your preferred flight plan includes flying through any part of an FRZ, you are required by law to seek and obtain air traffic control permission in advance. This can be done by filing an application on https://nsf.nats.aero.
All drone pilots are responsible for their aircraft at all times and it’s important that everyone flies safely and responsibly.
You can find out more by viewing our free online training course for hobbyist drone operators.
Remote pilot qualifications do not discern between flying a drone for leisure or for commercial gain but they do vary depending on the Category of operation.
The competency requirements for remote pilots flying in the Open Category vary depending on the subcategory of drone. Further details of the requirements for flying in the Open Category can be found here: https://www.caa.co.uk/consumers/remotely-piloted-aircraft/drones-flying-in-the-open-category/.
To fly in the Specific Category, the UAS operator is required to hold an Operational Authorisation (OA) which requires their remote pilots to hold a General Visual Line Of Sight Certificate (GVC). Further details of the OA and GVC can be found here: https://www.caa.co.uk/consumers/remotely-piloted-aircraft/flying-in-the-specific-category/.
If you see a drone being flown illegally, you should immediately report the incident to the police by telephoning 101.
If you are a drone user or otherwise connected with the aviation industry, you can report your concerns via the CHIRP website by clicking on the CHIRP online confidential reporting tab.
If you witness a dangerous or potentially unsafe drone-related incident, you should report the circumstances to the CAA.
You can do this online using its Occurrence Reporting system.
Anyone witnessing a dangerous or potentially unsafe airspace event should report the incident to the Civil Aviation Authority and/or to the police by telephoning 101; if you are directly involved in the incident as an aviation professional you should use the Mandatory Occurrence Reporting (MOR) system on the CAA website https://www.caa.co.uk/Our-work/Make-a-report-or-complaint/MOR/Occurrence-reporting/.
If, as an aviation professional, a member of the drone community, or a drone pilot, you are concerned that a drone is being flown irresponsibly, intrusively, dangerously or in a manner that may have an impact on airspace safety, you can report your concerns via the CAA-sponsored CHIRP confidential reporting programme, which is accessible via the CHIRP website https://chirp.co.uk/aviation/.
Where you can and can’t fly is described on the CAA website https://register-drones.caa.co.uk/drone-code/where-you-can-fly.
You should stay well away from airports, airfields, spaceports and aircraft. Most airports, airfields and spaceports have a Flight Restriction Zone (FRZ). You can find details of FRZs and other airspace restrictions that are relevant to drones at https://www.nats.aero/airspace/drones/.
If you want to fly your drone inside any Flight Restriction Zone, or if you plan to fly through any part of an FRZ, you will need to obtain air traffic control permission in advance by submitting a non-standard flight application at https://nsf.nats.aero.