Air traffic controllers partner with Altitude Angel to integrate drones safely in UK skies
NATS, the UK’s leading air traffic services provider, 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 whilst 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.”
Richard Parker, Founder & CEO of Altitude Angel adds:
“Altitude Angel’s platform offers the level of safety and accuracy needed to enable regulators and ANSPs to feel confident that drone operations can be integrated safely, not just into our skies, but into existing aviation systems. This partnership with NATS signals that innovative, global ANSPs recognise and desire to work with the best technology providers in the sector, and the importance for ANSPs to be involved in the emergence of UTM capabilities. We believe that partnerships like this are the future for driving innovation while safeguarding the skies.”
NATS is a leading air traffic management and solutions company, established in the UK in 1962 and now operating in countries around the world. NATS handled 2.45 million flights in 2016, covering the UK and eastern North Atlantic from its centres at Swanwick, Hampshire and Prestwick, Ayrshire. NATS also provides air traffic services at 14 UK airports; at Gibraltar Airport and, in a joint venture with Ferrovial, at a number of airport towers in Spain.
NATS and Altitude Angel will build on their successful partnership launching the UK’s leading drone safety app, Drone Assist, which provides guidance on where it is safe to fly and allows users to submit flight plans so that drone flights can be seen by other aviation stakeholders.
Drone Assist connects into Altitude Angel’s global UTM platform, GuardianUTM, which already receives voluntary flight plans for around 5,000 drone flights per month in the UK and delivers safety data to around 50,000 active monthly registered drone pilots.
The GuardianUTM platform ensures data accuracy, relevance and provides Drone Assist with a real-time connection to aviation systems.
With forthcoming changes to European legislation just around the corner, Altitude Angel’s technology platform will automatically ensure compliance with U-Space programme requirements so that UK drone pilots can always feel safe in the knowledge they are flying with the best data to help them do more with their drones.