Officials from the island of Jersey have briefed authorities on neighboring Guernsey about potential implications that looming drone trials are expected to eventually have for daily life and activity on both English Channel territories.
A delegation of Jersey transport officials made the 27-mile trip to Guernsey to discuss UK-sponsored drone testing that – among other things – is expected to lead to fast and affordable transportation services between the two islands, compared to current boat, helicopter, and small plane options.
The initial phase of the trials, slated to be held in the spring of next year, will begin with demonstration drone flights for residents, then proceed on to use in simulated scenarios like critical medical deliveries, offshore fishery patrols, and deployment in search and rescue situations.
The objective is to prepare regular operation of drones in an array of commercial and public services on both Jersey and Guernsey, and – as a logical extension of that smaller UAV tech – eventual air taxi flights between the islands, as well as to France to the east and England to the north.
Jersey was selected as one of the testbeds for the Agile Integrated Airspace System program (ALIAS), which is examining ways of integrating drones and automated cargo and passenger craft within UK airspaces. Though both Channel Islands are independently administrated and separate territories, they maintain longtime special relations with the UK that facilitate common projects like the ALIAS trials.
Funded by a $4.6 million grant from the government-linked UK Innovation and Research organization that promotes next-generation aviation and other emerging technologies, ALIAS is made up of nine business and public partners, including delivery and vertiport company Skyports and Volant Autonomy, an avionics and navigation software startup spun off from the University of Bath.
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Though uses cases and outcomes during trials will reflect in the particularities of daily life on Jersey, they’ll also be relevant to and shared with neighboring Guernsey, while also remaining applicable to the kinds of planned drone activities in the UK.
Robin MacRae, an official with the Ports of Jersey who was part of the delegation that visited Guernsey, called the ALIAS trials a first step in a potentially life-changing development process for both islands.
“We see ALIAS as a great opportunity, not just for Ports, but for the Channel Islands,” he said. “It will enable us to move essential medical supplies, bolster our search and rescue capability, and eventually to provide air taxi services within the Channel Islands. Sustainability is also important to us. We want to make swift progress on the decarbonization of aviation, so we are keen to pursue opportunities to work with like-minded partners.”
Drones in the Jersey trials will operate below 3,000 feet – beneath the altitude traditional planes fly – in a designated offshore airspace of 60-square kilometers, and under Jersey Air Traffic Control aegis.
ALIAS testing will rely on an integrated system to manage the UAVs and air traffic control elements, using the Xr aircraft collision avoidance system standard for air taxis and other autonomous aircraft – the only program thus far doing so besides NASA.