The most technically complex and comprehensive demonstration in the world so far of a UTM system was put on display on 21 November when UK air navigation service provider NATS, UTM technology partner Altitude Angel and Manchester airport demonstrated a range of drone airspace management scenarios in “Operation Zenith” The significance of the demonstration was that it showed, in single time and place, that a wide range of drone operational scenarios could be safely managed by current-technology UTM and related systems even in an airspace next to a busy airport.
These operational scenarios included the automatic “cease operations” command to drone operators with the sudden arrival of an emergency services helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft which performed a go-around manoeuvre. The demonstration also featured the detection and subsequent management of a rogue drone entering the airspace area under control of the UTM.
Operation Zenith demonstrated the maturity of a number of key UTM enabling technologies will allow for the safe expansion of visual line of sight (VLOS) and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations under existing regulations, according to the project proponents. The operation was held within the Controlled Traffic Zone (CTR) at Manchester Airport and began with a demonstration of drone operations at the airport – delivering tools and inspecting the runway for foreign objects (see table below ”The eight scenarios of Operation Zenith”)
The core airspace management technology behind the operation was the GuardianUTM Airspace Management Operating System, which allowed for the secure data exchange between ATM systems and UTM providers, correlating signals from a wide range of sensors and integrating and connecting with numerous detection systems of uncooperative unmanned traffic.
Drone flight plans and operations were managed through Frequentis electronic flight strips, which allowed airspace managers to interact directly with the drone operators – including giving them the commands to “land”, “loiter” or “hold” when manned aircraft were about to enter the airspace under UTM control.
Manned and unmanned aircraft participant platforms were equipped with uAvionix ADS-B devices, which broadcast position information to the GuardianUTM system and was also made available to ground control stations of drone operators and manned aircraft.
A non-cooperative drone was detected and identified using the DJI’s Aeroscope and Dedrone Counter-UAS Solution, appearing on the UTM display and to other airspace users.
Operation Zenith was designed to demonstrate that an airspace management tooling platform could successfully invoke an airspace restriction in a defined area and automatically disseminate actions to all active and affected unmanned traffic.
The next stage of trials of the concept will take place early next year when more BVLOS operations and airports will be added. Results from the programme will be passed on to the knowledge-bank created as part of the Europe Union’s U-space demonstrator network
(https://www.unmannedairspace.info/commentary/european-commissions-u-space-demonstrator-network-ambitions-challenges-threats/), but, according to NATS, it is unlikely that a fully operational national UTM system would be developed for the UK before the first quarter of 2020, by which time the technical maturity of the system would be complemented by an associated business plan. Under the NATS concept the core UTM technology – including controlled airspace, airport and low level airspace aeronautical data – would be configured to allow UTM service providers to compete to provide UTM services to individual drone operators.
|The eight scenarios of Operation Zenith
The on-airfield delivery scenario featured an on-airfield drone flight that crossed active traffic paths to deliver equipment having gained electronic flight approval from air traffic control (ATC). This scenario was designed to demonstrate the safe use of unmanned air vehicles to deliver parts or equipment without causing disruption in a busy, complex and dynamic airfield environment. Operation Zenith demonstrated the end-to-end process, including defining workflows for pre-approved operations, on-demand initiation, ATC approval and providing situational awareness.
The runway threshold inspection scenario featured a drone operator carrying out a remote inspection of the airfield runway threshold. The scenario was designed to demonstrate the end-to-end process, including defining workflows for pre-approved operations, on-demand initiation, ATC approval and providing situational awareness.
The linear infrastructure inspection beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) scenario featured a drone flight to carry out a railway track inspection under BVLOS conditions within the Manchester Airport controlled zone (CTR). This scenario showed a successful, safe drone flight following an effective flight planning and approval process and is designed to demonstrate air traffic control situational awareness, and de-confliction with other aircraft. The platform was used to define approval workflows that enabled and assisted BVLOS operations while providing the situational awareness to ATC of nearby drone operations and movements necessary to provide a safe operating environment.
In the VLOS atmospheric survey scenario, as a commercial operation, it was vital that the crew had visibility of any factor that may affect or impede the flight. Such dynamic and fluid conditions needed to be communicated to the drone pilot in sufficient time to mitigate any potential risks caused if the drone remains. Through a series of events the GuardianUTM O/S and ATC procedures forewarned an operator of a developing situation and suggest risk mitigations.
The commercial user within visual line of sight (VLOS) scenario featured a commercial user flying a drone under VLOS conditions within Manchester Airport’s controlled zone (CTR). This scenario aimed to show how a user was able use an app like Drone Assist to check air and ground hazards and use its ‘fly now’ function to allow other airspace users and an airport of their activities.
The site survey within visual line of sight (VLOS) scenario featured an FRZ-approved drone flight to undertake a site survey under VLOS conditions within Manchester Airport’s flight restricted zone (FRZ).
The safeguarding scenario featured the detection of an unauthorised drone as it entered a pre-identified section of airspace to test Operation Zenith’s safeguarding solution. This scenario was designed to demonstrate how a safeguarding solution could be effectively integrated into a common platform to allow air traffic control (ATC) and other organisations to enhance the visibility of potential hazards whilst not restricting approved flights.
Operation Zenith was designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the airspace management system by providing a complete, composite view of the airspace using a range of ATM and UTM sensory sources including radar, safeguarding, hook-on EC, and ground control station/autopilot connectivity. This scenario was designed to demonstrate that an airspace management tooling platform can successfully invoke an airspace restriction in a defined area and automatically disseminate actions to all active and affected unmanned traffic.
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