UK pathfinder project conducts BVLOS trials in segregated airspace

Partners in a three-year programme coordinated by the UK Education Innovation Collaboration (EIC) have completed the first phase of beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight trials in segregated airspace. The drone pathfinder project, sponsored by the UK government, supports the establishment of a regularised framework for the use of drones BVLOS in the UK. Aviation specialist Callen-Lenz completed a drone flight of 688 km BVLOS over a combined 640 minutes. The three-year programme began in May 2018 and is led by Wales & West Utilities in collaboration with Cadent, National Grid Gas Transmission, Northern Gas Networks, Northern Powergrid, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks and UK Power Networks, and supported by Connected Places Catapult. Working with UK aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the initiative is exploring how the application of drone technology could transform the way the industry carries out essential maintenance tasks.

The first phase of trials focused on evaluating specific technologies and techniques that will support the eventual business as usual implementation of BVLOS flight operations on both gas and electricity network assets. In particular, the trials looked at the testing of satellite, cellular and mesh communications; the integration of novel ground centring technologies; evaluation of existing technologies; risk management; operational parameters and aircraft suitability.

The subsequent report concluded that no significant operational issues were found that would present a problem and produced essential learning points and technical outputs that will shape the next stage of flight trials in ‘normal’ airspace – ultimately supporting the generation of the necessary permissions from the CAA.

Ian Cameron, Head of Innovation at UK Power Networks, said: “The results from the latest phase of the project represent a promising milestone for the future of BVLOS drone operation in the UK. UK Power Networks is proud to collaborate on a project that will enable a more efficient inspection of our vast overhead power line networks, as well as being another step towards decarbonisation of the industry.”

Callen-Lenz plans to conduct airspace trials in non-segregated airspace in 2020.

(Image: EIC)

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