Future Flight newsletter edition 4

Posted on: 10/02/2022

Welcome to the latest edition of the Future Flight newsletter. Here, we explore some of the projects that have made great strides in the future flight arena this year, as well as looking to the horizon of what future flight will bring in the coming years.

2024: Two years to set the Future Flight trajectory

The next two years are pivotal for the future aviation system of the UK. These technologies can help bring people together, move goods and deliver services in a sustainable way.

Through the Future Flight vision and roadmap, we have laid out the steps and milestones necessary to position the UK as a global leader in advanced aviation solutions, by developing the systems, products and services for future flight.

We project that by 2030, future flight technologies will have contributed to a 1.8% increase in UKGDP, totalling a £16 billion saving to the UK economy. To reach this point, we must develop services that will unlock a path to certification and social acceptance, and demonstrate real-world, large scale examples with strong socio-economic value propositions. This will create the aviation system, and system of systems, to enable the safe integration and operation of new types of air vehicles.

The steps we need to take can be divided into three core areas of focus:

  • the infrastructure (physical, digital, airspace and energy) set to support future flight
  • the capabilities of air vehicles being used
  • regulations and public trust – regulations authorise safe operation, and demonstrable safe operation builds public trust

Infrastructure and City Science

Without good controls of where drones can and cannot go, and how they are monitored, the promises of future flight will not be realised. By 2024, as highlighted in our roadmap, it will be important to demonstrate how drones can safely integrate into our society and provide clear benefits for the citizens they will be in close contact with. For this, we must develop flight routes for drones and integrate them with existing protocols and mechanisms.

One future flight project, a partnership between City Science Corporation Ltd and the University of Exeter, is developing strategies and technologies to ensure the safe deployment of drone fleets into our urban areas, by evaluating ‘three-dimensional networks’ in the sky, through which UAVs can navigate. By modelling these networks with a focus on delivery, the company is helping to better inform decisions around digital airspace infrastructure and future business models.

Air vehicle capabilities and Drone Defence

Scaling up the capabilities and agility of drones is a key development in future flight. Full control of drone technology with autonomous and user-controlled safety mechanisms is essential for realising their true potential. Demonstrating that drones can function safely near structures and other valuable assets is key to securing the confidence of investors, policymakers, business owners and the public.

Drone Defence is developing software and processes to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of future flight vehicles. The project is exploring the necessary protocols for drones, including where they can go and how they are used, and methods to tackle rogue users. Geofencing, for instance, can prevent drones entering certain areas, such as airports, stadiums and critical infrastructure. Once operational, it is hoped the projects developed by Drone Defence will raise public confidence around the coming drone revolution.

Radar beacons to support drone navigation

R4DAR is developing technology to support the effective roll-out of autonomous drones and UAVs. We spoke to Clem Robertson, CEO and Founder, to find out more about the company and the wide ranging impacts of radar beacons for flight technology implementations.

Building public trust

By 2030, over 27,000 drones are expected to be used across the UK in all sectors, including public defence, health and education. The more positive and safe use cases of drone integration that we can demonstrate, the faster we can reap their benefits. City Science, Drone Defence and Malloy Aeronautics are all contributing to the changing attitudes of the British public towards future flight technology. But we must go further than this.

Over the coming years it is necessary to develop legal frameworks, standards and best practice guidelines both in government and institutions. The NHS, for example, will become one of the biggest beneficiaries of drone technology. The NHS currently accounts for 5% of all road traffic in England, in ambulances, passenger and employee travel, cargo and medical waste transport. Further developing this system will reduce road traffic significantly, supporting the health service and enabling faster delivery times for life-saving equipment, as well as blood and organ transfer.

CAA Update - Shaping the Future of Regulation

Under the Future Flight Challenge, the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) is currently working with almost 30 consortia who, in accordance with the programme’s objectives, are seeking to develop solutions to some of the largest challenges – and of course, opportunities – for the aviation sector in the UK over the next two years.

Each project plays its part in building the CAA’s understanding of industry-based solutions and future aspirations. It gives us unique insight to test and review current regulation against future needs: be it for secure and efficient vertiport operations, Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone operations for delivering public goods, or a workable concept for public transport using electric aircraft in the UK. Using our current regulation as a basis does not provide all of the answers, but it is an important starting point. This is because future aviation is not just about new technology, but about safe integration of new technologies and ideas with existing airspace users and the enhancement of today’s services and operations.

Earlier this year, CAA released its set of CAA Regulatory Principles, CAP2185. With these, we commit to constantly look outwards and challenge ourselves to prepare for sectoral and technological innovation and new challenges. In addition, we highlight our commitment to create proportionate regulation, derived from exploring different ways of achieving desired outcomes. These outcomes-based principles will guide us in our future regulatory decision making. Including helping us to continue our work to explore specific case studies and work collaboratively on a range of Innovation Projects. This allows us to compare and contrast different approaches and lessons learnt for informed decision making.

Visit the CAA Innovation Hub for case studies and other guidance for innovators that have been published to date.

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