UK UAV group urges rapid expansion of BVLOS drone activities

UK BVLOS drone

A group of next-generation UK aviation tech companies and associated organizations have released a white paper urging the government and national regulators to move quickly to create rules enabling effective integration of beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights by drones and other craft into the airspace, and unleashing their full potential economic contributions that risk being undermined if such activity is held back.

Founded last August by the UK’s NATS air traffic control provider, the BVLOS Operations Forum has just issued its first findings in a white paper titled South of the Clouds: A Roadmap to the Next Generation of Uncrewed AviationIn it, participants from 15 aerial tech companies and public agencies offer suggestions to regulators on how to integrate drones and other UAV craft into the national airspace. 

Read more: Top UK drone organizations create forum to advance BVLOS flight

On the one hand, the report praises the funding, support, and encouragement officials have provided the sector – particularly through the Future Flight Challenge program. On the other, it laments the sluggishness with which leaders have contemplated and crafted operational rules to let the UK’s effervescent drone and next-generation aviation companies realize their full business and economic potential

The greatest brake on that activity, it says, is segregation of drone and other UAV flight into local, visual flights and tightly regimented, limited BVLOS operations considered critical to UK companies and public services for taking drone services to their higher levels.

“While there have been positive developments, not least in the Future Flight Challenge and the recently published Airspace Modernisation Strategy, this fast-growing sector is adamant we need to go further, faster, if we are to make uncrewed aircraft a safe and effective option in the aeronautical toolbox,” said Russell Porter, chair of the BVLOS Operations Forum and head of UTM stakeholder engagement NATS. “The way forward to achieving routine beyond visual line of sight operations, integrated with other air traffic, will require significant policy change from both the government and the Civil Aviation Authority.”

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Though obviously far more detailed in its entirety, the white paper ultimately recommends four main areas of policy action by UK regulators to enable far wider use of BVLOS flights, and greater ability for operators to expand aerial activities generally. 

Those suggest all drones be equipped with remote ID – what authors call “electronic conspicuity” of their location – to create full visibility of all craft in the air. That would in turn allow the multiplication of what would become routine  BVLOS drone missions in the UK, and their integration into other kinds of aerial operations. For now, those remain restricted, only temporarily authorized, and geographically separated from others.

The white paper also recommends the government and regulators define a clear roadmap for sequentially integrating drones and other UAVs into UK skies, as well as a funding mechanism that could allow sector players to plan for and gauge the introduction of services in sync with the plan’s progresses.

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Porter argues that if UK authorities can shake their current sluggishness in managing drone activity – and move quickly to map out a means for permitting greater numbers of safe, integrated BVLOS flights – both operators and clients of those services stand to greatly benefit.

“With reduced emissions, reduced cost, and improved safety, uncrewed aircraft can achieve extraordinary things that everyone, in all parts of the UK, will benefit from, and BVLOS is key to unlocking that full potential,” said Porter. “The next generation of aviation is coming, and now is the time to act to make it a reality.”

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