NATS To Develop Drone Air Traffic Control System

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New systems to ensure no more near misses of drones and aircraft, and improved tracking of drone deliveries

The UK’s leading air traffic services provider NATS has teamed up with a start-up called Altitude Angel, to effectively develop an drone air traffic control system.

NATS is currently responsible over overseeing the safe flight of nearly all aircraft in the UK’s crowded skies, and

It comes amid growing concern at the number of drones in the skies, and a number of near misses with aircraft as well as the use of drones to help smuggle in contraband into prisons.

Safe Skies

NATS announced the ‘strategic partnership’ with Altitude Angel this week in order to lay “the foundation for a future whereby drones and manned aircraft could safely co-exist in the UK’s busy skies.”

They intend to develop unmanned traffic management solutions that can be integrated and interact with conventional air traffic control.

Both NATS and Altitude Angel agree that drones can offer huge potential benefits to public services and the economy, and drones are increasingly being used by online retailers right through to emergency services.

“However, reports of incidents involving drones flying dangerously close to manned aircraft is on the rise, with drone incidents now accounting for more than half of all airprox reports received by NATS,” they said.

And these near misses will only increase as the number of unmanned aircraft grows.

“The partnership between NATS and Altitude Angel will drive the integration of drone flight and operational data with information and systems involved in managing manned aviation,” the two firms said. “Merging the two information streams will increase situational awareness amongst all legitimate airspace users and provide the digital foundations necessary to allow air traffic controllers to engage with drone operators.”

“It is vital that the UK puts in place the right infrastructure to enable this country to be at the forefront of this exciting industry whilst protecting the safety of conventional aviation,” said David Harrison, NATS Director of Safety.

“The increasing popularity of commercial drone operations and the growing number of drone-related incidents makes it essential that we take steps now to help make this happen and this new partnership will get the UK’s unmanned traffic industry off to a safe, flying start,” he said. “We are excited to be partnering with Altitude Angel in this innovative venture.”

Air Traffic

“Altitude Angel’s platform offers the level of safety and accuracy needed to enable regulators and ANSPs to feel confident that drone operations can be integrated safely, not just into our skies, but into existing aviation systems,” said Richard Parker, Founder & CEO of Altitude Angel

“This partnership with NATS signals that innovative, global ANSPs recognise and desire to work with the best technology providers in the sector, and the importance for ANSPs to be involved in the emergence of UTM capabilities,” said Parker. “We believe that partnerships like this are the future for driving innovation while safeguarding the skies.”

The new system aims to launch sometime in 2019 or 2020.

It should be noted that Google’s parent Alphabet last year successfully tested an air traffic management system it has been developing for managing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flight paths.

In 2014 it was reported that NASA was developing an air-traffic control system specifically for drones.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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