NATS and fast-growing UK-based drone traffic management solutions company Altitude Angel have entered a strategic partnership that lays the foundation for a future whereby drones and manned aircraft could safely co-exist in the UK’s busy skies.
The two organisations have entered a long-term partnership to develop unmanned traffic management solutions that can be integrated and interact with conventional air traffic control.
This shows a shift in industry understanding of the need for more collaboration between manned and unmanned air traffic management experts in order to increase situational awareness amongst all airspace users and their downstream service providers.
Drones offer huge potential benefits to public services and the economy, with a growing number of organisations looking to increase their use of drones in their everyday operations, from online retailers through to emergency services.
However, reports of incidents involving drones flying dangerously close to manned aircraft is on the rise, with drone incidents now accounting for more than half of all airprox reports received by NATS.
As the number of unmanned aircraft grows, increasing the visibility of drone flights is crucial to keep the skies safe.
The partnership between NATS and Altitude Angel will drive the integration of drone flight and operational data with information and systems involved in managing manned aviation.
Merging the two information streams will increase situational awareness amongst all legitimate airspace users and provide the digital foundations necessary to allow air traffic controllers to engage with drone operators.
This partnership lays the foundation for a future whereby access to lower level airspace could increasingly be granted digitally.
It links knowledge of an operator’s aircraft, qualifications and mission, pioneering a new form of airspace management suited to the changing use of our skies.
David Harrison, NATS director of safety, said: “It is vital that the UK puts in place the right infrastructure to enable this country to be at the forefront of this exciting industry while protecting the safety of conventional aviation.
“The increasing popularity of commercial drone operations and the growing number of drone-related incidents makes it essential that we take steps now to help make this happen and this new partnership will get the UK’s unmanned traffic industry off to a safe, flying start.
“We are excited to be partnering with Altitude Angel in this innovative venture.”