Cranfield and industry partners win award for airspace management project

Cranfield University has won an industry award for its research work in developing technology and safe operating procedures to enable drones to fly beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in non-segregated airspace.

Cranfield and the National Beyond visual line of sight Experimentation Corridor (NBEC) consortium – which includes Aveillant, Blue Bear Systems Research, Thales and Vodafone – won the award in the Airspace Management category within the Operations group of the inaugural Airwards.

Airwards judges said that the NBEC initiative was the most innovative, responsible and impactful example of drone use in the category, which focused on access, monitoring or management of organisations in their coordination, integration and regulation of the use of airspace through hardware, flight systems and unmanned traffic management.

NBEC is being used to enable a range of projects, including a number which have won Future Flight Challenge funding, and will facilitate wider unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) research at Cranfield, feeding into civil aviation projects that benefit society such as drone deliveries of medical supplies and helping to define future airspace and regulation.

The project is ongoing, with a temporary airspace change proposal in progress with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to create a small volume of low-level airspace that will be solely used for small, unmanned aircraft flight for a temporary period of 90 days this summer. During this time, it is planned to demonstrate technologies and procedures that should enable BVLOS drone flight without the need for airspace segregation.

The research will be used to develop navigational and operational capability for operating UAVs when BVLOS of the remote pilot to better understand the requirements for unmanned aircraft and associated infrastructure while operating BVLOS in UK airspace, and to develop detect and avoid systems for unmanned aircraft. This is necessary to help enable future services in the UK and to validate technology and procedures for such use-cases.

NBEC was one of the early projects accepted into the CAA’s Sandbox initiative and hopes to inform the CAA in respect of future regulation and airspace design direction by the safe completion of data-gathering experimentation.

Alex Williamson, Unmanned Aerial Systems Manager, Cranfield University, said: “I’m delighted to receive this award on behalf of the NBEC consortium. NBEC is an important initiative in helping to demonstrate how unmanned aircraft flying beyond visual line of sight can integrate safely with existing airspace users in non-segregated airspace. This is a key capability the drone industry needs in order to unlock many applications.”

The inaugural Airwards acknowledged lifesaving drone projects with a focus on positive use-cases for drones. Winners were selected by a panel of 26 judges from 100 nominations submitted by international companies, non-profits and organisations worldwide.

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