Airport authorities and aviation officials launched the National Aeronautical Center (NAC), the U.K.'s first testing center for the development of operations of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in civilian airspace, on Monday at two airports near Wales.
(Insitu's ScanEagle UAS, an aircraft recently issued a commercial UAS certificate in the U.S. Photo, courtesy of Insitu.)
Launched as a partnership between West Wales Airport and Newquay Cornwall Airport, the dual location facility allows developers access to 14,000 sq km of segregated airspace between the two airports. Both airports have opened areas for offshore testing and opened up runways and facilities to allow researchers to collect data about how unmanned aircraft can be safely integrated into the civilian airspace.
Ray Mann, head of the NAC, calls the center "an opportunity for the UK to lead the way," in the global marketplace for commercial UAS platforms. Mann also deflected negative "perceptions of civilian use of UAS," stating that these perceptions could hinder the U.K.'s ability to capitalize on the "opportunity for economic growth" within the UAS industry.
The U.K.'s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has authorized the civilian use of beyond line of sight UAS operations at West Wales Airport since 2004. NAC will be used to further develop new operating procedures and technologies that govern the integration of UAS into civil airspace in the U.K.
The center is similar to the types of facilities that FAA is currently seeking in the United States, and opened a year ahead of the agency's plan to open six UAS testing sites within the National Airspace System (NAS).
"The value of the UAS market has been forecast to be 30 billion per year by 2020 in the military sector alone. With the creation of the NAC, the U.K. is currently better placed than most others to create significant and sustainable economic benefit from this new industry, both from the military and civilian marketplace," said Richard Deakin, CEO of NATS said.
Related: Unmanned Systems News