Nine drone and aerospace organisations in the UK have joined forces to respond to the UK Research and Innovation’s Future Flight Challenge (FFC.) The Airspace of the Future (AoF) Consortium includes Thales, Cranfield University, Cranfield Airport Operations, Inmarsat, Altitude Angel, Ocado Group, Blue Bear, Satellite Applications Catapult, and Connected Places Catapult. The group will work together to “integrate drone services within the wider UK transport ecosystem,” says a press release.
“Multi-modal transport” is a key phrase in Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and smart city planning circles. It’s the idea that drones – and bikes, electric vehicles, self driving cars, and public transport – should be integrated into a transport system that allows communities to make best use of the most effective and appropriate means available for moving people and goods, whether that’s on the ground or in the air. The FFC is focused on adding clean and air options to the system: “The FFC supports the development of new technologies in the UK, including freight-carrying drones, urban air vehicles, and hybrid-electric regional aircraft. It is funded by £125 million from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which is, in turn, expected to be matched by up to £175 million from industry,: says the release. “Through advances in electric and autonomous flight technology, it will increase mobility and reduce road congestion, improve connectivity, scale up UK manufacturing opportunities, and help reduce the environmental impact of aviation across the globe.”
The Airspace of the Future project will help to integrate drones into the transportation system. “Integration” in the drone industry generally means integrating drones into common airspace with manned vehicles. In this context, integrating drone technology into the transport system means not only demonstrating that “routine, operational drone services” can be carried out safely, but that supporting infrastructure is planned and utilized effectively. “The group will work to integrate quieter, more efficient, and less polluting aircraft within the rest of the transport infrastructure, ensuring aircraft can fly to and from a cost-effective network of small operating bases,” the release explains.
“The group will also develop the supporting ground infrastructure, regulation and control systems required to use these new aircraft practically and safely, whilst the value of a mixed-use airspace will be demonstrated through innovative simulation and real-world applications.”
Alex Cresswell, CEO of Thales UK commented: “Today, Thales air traffic management systems control two-thirds of the world’s manned airspace, enabling two in three aeroplanes to take off or land safely. The opportunity to take this knowledge and experience into the fledgling Unmanned Traffic Management market is extremely exciting and will help revolutionise the sector.”
“We are pleased to be leading the Airspace of the Future Consortium, which will continue to drive innovation in the booming UTM market by applying new technologies to develop support ground infrastructure and air control systems. By utilising expertise from some of the UK’s most pioneering technology and transport organisations, the consortium will help deliver new, more environmentally conscious ways of providing air services for tasks such as inspection, surveying, and the delivery of goods by drones. We are excited for the Consortium to be part of the UK Government’s ambition to lead from the front on the world stage to tackle the climate crisis. Ahead of the COP26 conference in November, we look forward to showing how the UK as a science superpower is supporting these efforts.”
“At this very challenging time for the international aviation industry, it is a great testament to the UK’s drive and ambition that we have had such a strong response to the first funded Future Flight competition. The breadth, quality and creativity of the bids has been exceptional and the economic and social benefits offered are very significant. The projects we are now launching will position the UK strongly to drive the third revolution in aviation,” said Gary Cutts, Future Flight Challenge Director.