UK CAELUS project simulates drone flights to prepare for routine medical deliveries

UK Air navigation service provider has completed flight simulations at NATS’ head office in Hampshire to demonstrate how drones could be seamlessly integrated alongside other air traffic at a busy airport. This included drone operators filing flight plans, flying in and out of the airport and being safely deconflicted with other aircraft.

The work forms part of project CAELUS, a UKRI industry collaboration of 16 partners including AGS Airports, University of Strathclyde, NATS and NHS Scotland, aiming to use drones to transport essential medical supplies throughout Scotland, says the press release.

The project’s first test flight occurred at Glasgow Airport last year, with a drone flying to the nearby NHS Golden Jubilee hospital. The concept development and simulation work NATS has led on is essential to understanding how that one-off flight could be safely scaled up to include dozens of drones flying ‘Beyond Visual Line of Sight’ and delivering medicines and blood tests to patients across Scotland and potentially beyond.

The airspace integration was overseen by a new Airspace Manager function using new technology developed by NATS. As part of this proposed ‘concept of operations,’ direct voice communication between a drone operator and air traffic control would only be required by exception – including the kind of emergency scenario demonstrated during the simulations.

ANRA Technologies has been supporting project CAELUS since 2020, providing digital technologies that enable drone deliveries scale safely and efficiently. During the simulations, ANRA supported UTM and ATM data exchanges that built on the ASTM F3548 and overlaid with ATM processes to allow drone operations in controlled airspaces and in UASGeozones.

Fiona Smith, AGS Airports Group Head of Aerodrome Strategy and Project CAELUS Director, said: “Our first live flight trial last year was incredibly important and demonstrated a means of integrating drones into an airport environment. This year, we look forward to showcasing many more demonstrations including a ramped up flying programme across Scotland and we are delighted to kick start that programme with this exciting NATS showcase”.

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