Six projects have been chosen for trials under a UK Civil Aviation Authority scheme that will help make beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone flights an everyday reality.
Among those included are schemes that involve medical drone deliveries, energy infrastructure, and ‘sky highways’.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority invited organisations to bid to participate in an innovation sandbox earlier this year to validate and test their concepts, supporting the development of BVLOS capabilities.
Projects involved include Apian London Health Bridge; Cranfield Airport and Project BLUEPRINT; Droneprep Open Skies Cornwall; HexCam; Skyports Project TRAject; and Snowdonia Aerospace Centre Project Dragons Eye.
Innovation sandboxes help organisations prepare for regulatory approval, and helps the regulator develop policies that better meet the needs of the industry in the future.
Sandboxes are controlled environments where organisations can test their innovative technologies against the existing regulatory framework, helping applicants maximise the readiness of their innovation, and also help the UK Civil Aviation Authority develop better, more efficient ways to develop new regulations.
These new trials will help develop plans for how drones can be safely integrated with other airspace users, as part of the regulator’s wider Airspace Modernisation Strategy.
The trials will consider a new policy concept that focuses on a specific type of airspace structure called a temporary reserved area (TRA) to enable the trialling of systems and approaches to safely enable drones to operate within the same airspace as other aircraft.
Prior to the new concept, drone operators wanting to fly BVLOS typically had to apply for a temporary danger area (TDA), which would effectively close a section of airspace for most other users for up to 90 days.
Sophie O’Sullivan, Head of Future Safety and Innovation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said:
“Our innovation sandboxes play a pivotal role in our ongoing mission to develop efficient, forward-thinking regulations that will allow different types of aircraft to use the same airspace.
“The chosen projects encompass a range of critical applications, including medical deliveries and infrastructure surveying. They highlight the varying role that drones could play in the aviation ecosystem and the trials will provide invaluable insights into how we integrate drones safely with existing airspace users."
Notes to editors
- The Civil Aviation Authority’s sandbox approach helps applicants maximise the regulatory readiness of their innovation, and also helps the regulator develop better, more efficient ways to develop new regulations
- Sandbox services are offered prior to commencing applications for regulatory approval being started.
- The UK Civil Aviation Authority published it’s refreshed Airspace Modernisation Strategy in January 2023, setting out a vision for the future of UK airspace which will help deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys, as well as create more capacity for the benefit for those who use and are affected by UK airspace
- Apian – London Health Bridge: Apian has partnered with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (GSTT) to trial an on-demand drone delivery service for high-priority pathology samples between the hospital laboratories located at GSTT. This service has the potential to significantly reduce turnaround times whilst increasing efficiency and access to best-in-class diagnostic platforms. The end goal is to deliver enhanced patient care, alongside cost savings and reduced carbon emissions through improved sustainability of NHS healthcare logistics. This trial project will serve as a blueprint for the wider adoption and scaling of drone delivery throughout the NHS across London.
- Cranfield Airport and Project BLUEPRINT: Cranfield Airport and Project BLUEPRINT is seeking to fly in the vicinity of Cranfield Airport and Milton Keynes, which will enable crewed and uncrewed aircraft to co-exist in a safe and efficient operating environment. This will be achieved through the deployment of a low-cost ground based detect and avoid network, and development and integration of open access UTM architecture into Cranfield Airport. This will allow the testing of a series of drone use cases, and intruder detection trials for co-operative and non-co-operative general aviation aircraft in the vicinity of the airport.
- Droneprep – Open Skies Cornwall: DronePrep’s ‘Sky-Highways’ Concept of Operations (ConOps) has been awarded a position on the CAA TRA Sandbox to exploit consultation findings of the UKRI Future Flight Challenge Phase 3 project ‘Open Skies Cornwall’ currently being progressed by DronePrep and their consortia in the region. The Open Skies Cornwall project remit during 2022-25 is to establish a permanent operational environment in airspace to allow project end users, NHS, Royal Mail, Falmouth Harbour, Cornwall Council and Civilian Emergency Response Organisations to benefit from improved connectivity across, and into, Cornwall to improve the delivery of essential services in Healthcare, Emergency Response and Supply Chain resilience. DronePrep benefits from a position on the CAA TRA Sandbox to further develop the DronePrep Sky-Highways ConOps with the CAA and the existing Open Skies Cornwall consortia technical partners (including Neuron Innovations, University of Southampton, Skyports Drone Deliveries and Thales), along with additional and essential support and facilitation from Land’s End Airport ANSP, Penzance ANSP, Cornwall Newquay ANSP, Port of Truro, MCA and the Managers of the Danger Areas linking the Lizard Peninsula to Plymouth.
- HexCam: HexCam Ltd has operated drones commercially since 2012 and has developed a specialism in survey, mapping and 3D digital twin inspection modelling, working on renewable energy infrastructure and other construction projects all over the UK. Offshore wind project onshore cable corridor surveys and construction monitoring have traditionally been carried out using ground-based equipment and methods, exposing surveyors and other site operatives to construction site risks and requiring extensive access to land disturbing landowners, local residents and ecologically sensitive sites. The use of drones has reduced survey time and disturbance considerably, providing valuable multi-use data to project developers and their Tier 1 contractors. HexCam, in partnership with its local ANSP, seeks to test the viability of long distance drone survey operations, utilising electronic conspicuity and air traffic services at very low levels as a means to integration.
- Skyports – Project TRAject: Skyports Drone Services has partnered with Air Navigation Solutions Limited (ANSL) to implement a concept of operations for beyond visual line of site drone delivery operations at scale. The project will implement critical systems which enable drone aircraft to detect and avoid crewed aircraft equipped with electronic conspicuity tools. Skyports Drone Services and ANSL will trial the operational concept at the Skyports Drone Services Westcott flight testing facility, before implementing the solution for NHS drone deliveries in Scotland. The project uses the CAA Temporary Reserved Area (TRA) policy to enable safe testing in a managed airspace environment.
- Snowdonia Aerospace Centre – Project Dragons Eye - Snowdonia Aerospace Centre will, under Project Dragons Eye, be undertaking a series of trials at the Centre to test the TRA policy concept of securing unsegregated and uncontrolled airspace to enable the safe managed integration of beyond visual line-of-sight drones and crewed aircraft. The trials will seek to determining the necessary surveillance technologies, airspace management procedures, and flight operation procedures to achieve this. Using the Llanbedr Danger Area (EG D217) and their Flight Information Service, the Centre will prototype the TRA concept in a safe and controlled fashion and gather suitable test and verification data for options that can be deployed away from the test area to support operational use cases in Class G airspace across Wales