Integrating Uncrewed Aviation: The BVLOS revolution
Over the last century, aviation has become a core part of our lives. Travel, trade, and tourism depend upon our ability to take flight. Early aviators would marvel at what their endeavours have led to. Now, the prospect of taking to the skies with no pilot on board, generates a new paradigm shift.
At NATS we believe that remotely piloted aircraft – or ‘drones’ – have a potentially huge advantage in numerous applications, including health care delivery, search and rescue, connection of remote communities, infrastructure inspection, and environmental monitoring. There are clear economic, environmental, societal and safety benefits from such applications.
To achieve these benefits, it is imperative that airspace is not a blocker to new types of flight. Now is the time to modernise the way airspace is managed to ensure this new generation of aviation can truly take off.
Remotely piloted aircraft have a huge advantage across numerous applications.
Like all Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSP), NATS has a duty to safely and efficiently accommodate any user that has a legitimate demand on the airspace. We know that integrating new types of aircraft, rather than segregating them into pockets of airspace, will be crucial if our skies are to remain accessible to all users. The challenge is to balance the needs of each airspace user and to do so whilst reducing the environmental impact of aviation.
Integrating new types of aircraft, rather than segregating them into pockets of airspace, is crucial
To achieve that level of integration, NATS is working with pioneers, enabling real-life flight trials, and developing the concepts and procedures that could be used to integrate new categories of flight. For some organisations those trials have already become commercial operations. Now, with the experience we’ve developed through research projects like the Future Flight Challenge, we aim to support others to do the same.
NATS is working with pioneers to develop procedures for integrating new categories of flight
To continue the momentum, NATS founded the BVLOS Operations Forum in 2021. Here, the UK’s leading beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operators are learning from one another’s experience, collectively improving their operations, and jointly developing solutions to their shared challenges. One of the most significant is presented by the industry’s rapid pace of innovation. With Government regulations yet to catch up, BVLOS flights are still highly restricted.
The BVLOS Operations Forum, comprising the UK's leading operators, formed in 2021.
Progress is being made and the Forum has actively supported recent policy initiatives, such as the Airspace Modernisation Strategy, but operators are still unable to fly with the flexibility they need. The growing commercial demand for routine BVLOS services cannot be met within the current regulatory environment.
Today, BVLOS flights are held in segregated airspace, using temporary constructs. These areas are costly and time consuming to arrange, only last for 90 days and are difficult to reapply for. This means the way our airspace is currently regulated doesn’t allow the industry to scale up operations and move to the next phase of integration. So how do we get to a point where we can?
Our airspace doesn’t currently allow the BVLOS industry to scale up operations and move to the next phase of integration.
The BVLOS Operations Forum published a White Paper setting out the regulatory developments needed for the industry to reach that next phase. ‘South of the Clouds: A roadmap to the next generation of uncrewed aviation’, outlines the imperative of BVLOS operations and recommends four key steps that need to be taken by the industry and policy makers if we are to achieve routine, scalable, and integrated BVLOS operations.
Four key steps recommended to achieve routine, scalable, and integrated BVLOS operations.
While these policy recommendations will not completely solve the challenge, if adopted, they will be a huge leap forward in that journey. They also align closely with the UK CAA’s intention to integrate, rather than segregate uncrewed aircraft, and their recently published four-pillar plan on how this can be achieved.
- Pilot competency - a simpler, more standardised mechanism to demonstrate the competence of pilots when flying BVLOS needs to be created.
- Flightworthiness - a formal, nationally recognised mechanism to demonstrate the robustness of aircraft when applying for an Operational Authorisation needs to be developed.
- Risk assessment - a more suitable mechanism to assess and mitigate risk needs to be created.
- Airspace - if we are to unlock scalable repeatable BVLOS then a move to unsegregated airspace is needed.
These four pillars, along with the updated Airspace Modernisation Strategy and ‘Flightpath to the Future’ documents, are positive steps forward by the Government and represent real progress.
This is undoubtedly the beginning of a new era for aviation across the world, and with the right leadership from Government and industry there is a real opportunity for the UK to lead the way internationally. More importantly, achieving routine BVLOS operations could save lives, connect people, and help us to create a decarbonised and sustainable aviation industry for generations to come.
With the right leadership from Government and industry there is a real opportunity for BVLOS operations to save lives, connect people, and help create a sustainable aviation industry.
While early aviators could only have dreamed that one day we’d be talking of remotely piloted aircraft, their words then are just as applicable now… “Aviation is proof that given the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible”.
Check out: ‘South of the Clouds: A roadmap to the next generation of uncrewed aviation’. Embedded version below, full-screen version here.
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