Air traffic services provider NATS and drone traffic management company Altitude Angel have signed a strategic partnership to develop a UK UTM.
Established in the UK in 1962, NATS now provides air traffic solutions in several countries around the world. The company handled 2.45 million flights in 2016, including air traffic services at 14 UK airports.
The deal with Altitude Angel will continue the partnership between the two – the fruits of which have so far included launching the UK’s go-to drone safety app, Drone Assist. The app provides guidance on where it is safe to fly and allows users to submit flight plans so that drone flights can be seen by other airspace users.
Collaborating to develop a UK UTM
Altitude Angel and NATS aim to develop unmanned traffic management solutions that can be integrated with and interact with conventional air traffic control.
In a joint statement, the two argue that their partnership “shows a shift in industry understanding of the need for more collaboration between manned and unmanned air traffic management experts in order to increase situational awareness amongst all airspace users and their downstream service providers.”
Read more: What is UTM? A Conversation with Amit Ganjoo
At its core, the move will aim to increase the visibility of drone flights, integrate those flights and operational data with information and systems involved in managing manned aviation, and merge the two information streams to increase situational awareness amongst all airspace users.
Together Altitude Angel and NATS want to provide the digital foundations necessary to allow air traffic controllers to engage with drone operators in real time.
“This partnership lays the foundation for a future whereby access to lower level airspace could increasingly be granted digitally. It links knowledge of an operator’s aircraft, qualifications and mission, pioneering a new form of airspace management suited to the changing use of our skies.”
David Harrison, NATS Director of Safety, has pointed to the rising number of reported incidents involving drones as a reason to better integrate them into the airspace.
“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,” he said.
“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. We are excited to be partnering with Altitude Angel in this innovative venture.”
Altitude Angel CEO Richard Parker believes the benefits of drone integration to air navigation service providers are obvious. “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,” he said.
“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. We believe that partnerships like this are the future for driving innovation while safeguarding the skies.”
Changes to European legislation concerning unmanned flights are on the way. Altitude Angel’s technology platform aims to automatically ensure compliance with the EU’s U-Space programme.