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Operation Zenith, an ambitious drone demonstration at Manchester Airport, has shown that drones can be flown safely alongside manned aircraft in controlled airspace.
The drones, overseen by NATS air traffic controllers communicating with drone operators via Altitude Angel’s GuardianUTM Airspace Management Operating System, successfully performed a series of on-airfield tasks without endangering or disrupting airport operations.
The carefully-planned unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) scenarios, which included an equipment delivery, runway inspections and obeying an automated instruction to clear the skies for an ‘emergency’ police helicopter landing, were designed to showcase how it is possible to unlock the enormous social and economic benefit of drones while protecting today’s manned aviation.
The Operation Zenith demonstration was presented by an aviation industry collaboration led by NATS, the UK’s leading provider of air traffic control services, global unmanned traffic management (UTM) aviation technology company Altitude Angel and Manchester Airport, the third-busiest airport in the UK.
Live-streamed to an invited audience at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, Operation Zenith is the UK’s first contribution to the recently-launched European Commission’s U-Space Demonstrator Network.
Employing air traffic management systems and technology interfaces that are compliant with U-Space programme requirements, the success of Operation Zenith provides a realistic view of a future in which UAVs can be flown safely within visual line of sight and beyond (VLOS/BVLOS) in integrated airspace.
Alastair Muir, NATS Safety Director, said: “Operation Zenith has been an outstanding success in bringing together the manned and unmanned aviation industry to shine a light on our vision for the future of aviation. NATS is committed to working towards creating a foundation service to ensure the safe and efficient use of airspace. With more than 25 key players from across the aviation industry cooperating on this project, it has been possible for us to create a safe environment in which drones and commercial aircraft are able to co-exist safely in controlled airspace.