ATM Modernization, Unmanned

Live in London: Demonstration Integrates Unmanned Traffic into Active Airspace

By Nick Zazulia | December 7, 2018
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operation zenith

A drone flying over Manchester Airport during Operation Zenith. (Altitude Angel/NATS)

The integration of unmanned traffic into London's airspace was tested last month in a large-scale endeavor dubbed Operation Zenith.

A collaboration including air navigation service provider NATS, Manchester Airport, Altitude Angel, Frequentis, Textron and the British Department of Transport staged Operation Zenith, which comprised eight scenarios designed to demonstrate the compatibility of drones and unmanned traffic management (UTM) with current ATM in fully operational airspace.

The scenarios were:

  • On-airfield drone delivery
  • Runway threshold inspection
  • Beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) inspection of linear infrastructure
  • Atmospheric survey
  • Commercial operation
  • Site survey
  • Detection of unauthorized drones within a defined area
  • Airspace management combining ATM and UTM

The lynchpin solution to the collaboration is Altitude Angel's GuardianUTM O/S software, which aims to facilitate the integration of unmanned traffic. GuardianUTM's attractiveness hinges on the easy implementation of the company's platform for air traffic controllers, drone operators and manufacturers and third-party software developers.

“Our ability to utilise existing ATM networks and systems, and blend those with the ultra-modern and emerging drone industry, coupled with our automated ‘air traffic control for drones’ technologies means that more of the skies can be opened up for commercial exploitation, especially when this technology is deployed nationally as the foundation of a new national UTM offering," said Altitude Angel Chief Executive Richard Parker, who called the company a "middleware" layer between existing and emerging systems.

For the on-airfield delivery and runway threshold inspection scenarios, Frequentis contributed its smartStrips, which are electronic flight strips used to help air traffic controllers track the progress of aircraft — or drones. Frequentis Comsoft provided a civil aviation data access system and aeronautical integrated data exchange agent — next-generation technologies that enable the connection between GuardianUTM and the extant ATM technologies.

“Interoperability is key for the future success of ATM and UTM integration, and Altitude Angel is pioneering this concept through its GuardianUTM O/S," said Frequentis' Jan Ziegler, head of new business development and UTM. "Frequentis is pleased to be part of such a powerful real-life demonstration, underlining how existing and proven ATM-grade solutions converge into a unified traffic management concept."

With the rapid growth of unmanned technologies, companies and governments around the world are trying to determine how to safely and swiftly integrate them into airspaces to allow things like package delivery, infrastructure inspection and other operations that don't require the presence of a pilot. Operation Zenith had more than 20 participants taking part and additional observers because of the stakes surrounding the issue.

“The level of collaboration was very impressive," said Benoit Curdy, secretary general of the Global UTM Association, who was present for the demonstration. "It sets a new standard. It’s a big step forward towards the commercial implementation of UTM – we need this.”

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