A UK consortium of companies has launched a two-year, high-intensity autonomous drone operations (HALO) project to develop and test an uncrewed aircraft traffic management system (UTM) capable of integrating around the clock UAV flights at London’s Heathrow Airport.
The UK unit of French aerospace and defense giant Thales is a main member of the Operational Solutions Limited consortium behind the HALO initiative, which will establish a UTM system for routine automated and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone flights at Heathrow.
The effort aims to demonstrate the operational, economic, and societal benefits of UAV activities in even the densest of airspaces to perform routine but vital activities like infrastructure inspections, logistics support, and security operations. It will reach its peak during a four-month trial of the system in a 27/7 rotation of BVLOS activity.
Thales says its contribution to the HALO project will be supporting the development of automated technologies, skills, operating procedures, use cases, and safety approvals required to the test the UTM platform, which will rely on a patchwork of sensors to track drone flights across the 12-kilometer expanse of the greater Heathrow complex.
In addition to monitoring authorized drone activities, the HALO UTM system will also provide alerts on invasive craft in the airspace as part of its perimeter surveillance and general security duties. Thales says that in addition to the enhanced efficiencies that ongoing automated and BVLOS UAV activities can provide, increased use of the craft will provide savings and enhanced sustainability compared to traditional road vehicles.
“If you can deploy drones in a safe and efficient manner, without adversely impacting existing airport operations, endless possibilities exist to monitor, manage, or measure all manner of important airport activities” says Neil Watson, market development manager for Thales in the UK. “We envisage that costs, time, and carbon savings will be demonstrably significant as use cases and operating concepts are refined in coordination with the authorities and other stakeholders at Heathrow. Project HADO will be a major first step to achieving all of these things.”
The primary objectives of HADO will be to demonstrate that viable and productive drone operations – initially for craft under 25 kilograms – are feasible in high-density, controlled airspaces using the tailored UTM concept. In doing so, the project will aim to offer aviation regulators evidence-based recommendations on both technological and operational aspects of automated and BVLOS UAV flights and management systems in complex, mixed-traffic spaces.
“Enabling autonomous beyond visual line of sight drone operations in intensely busy areas is key to unlocking drone-enabled economies and a future of smart airports and smart cities,” said Mark Legh-Smith, CEO of Operational Solutions Limited. “We believe that HADO is a unique project with potential to unlock significant commercial opportunities in the UK.”