Representatives of CASCADE from the University of Manchester with the support of the University of Southampton have been part of the UK’s first UTM (Unified Traffic Management) demonstration. The demonstration, codenamed Operation Zenith, happened at the Manchester Airport and its proximities on the 21/11/2018.
Operation Zenith demonstrated the successful integration of manned and unmanned traffic through the execution of a number of scenarios involving VLOS, BVLOS and automated UAV flights into controlled airspace.
The operation took place at Manchester airport and involved several commercial entities from the UK’s drone industry, all overseen by NATS and Manchester Airport. Operation Zenith is currently the most comprehensive demonstration of manned and unmanned aircraft cooperating, in a unified airspace, through Altitude Angel’s GuardianUTM Airspace Management system. This demonstration involved several scenarios representative of the commercial operations of drones, showing how they can be flown safely in the same controlled airspace as traditional manned aviation.
To achieve this, several drone use cases were chosen to demonstrate how safe operation could be achieved. The use case delivered by the CASCADE team was based on aerial monitoring of air quality in areas surrounding the airport. For such an operation it is required that the drone pilot and observer have full visibility of aircraft movements in surrounding controlled airspace. It is essential that the drone pilot is notified of approaching aircraft or changes in clearance status in a timely manner such that the mission can be modified or aborted to maintain safety.
The aim of Operation Zenith was to use the GuardianUTM Airspace Management system to allow for all participants to “book out” airspace, notifying operators in the area of others’ intent to operate. This allows interactions between aircraft to be avoided by segregation of the airspace using virtual geo-fences. To do this, users were required to build software which could register and identify themselves to the GuardianUTM system before submitting intentions to fly. Furthermore, flight plans must adhere to any special requirements or restrictions the systems relayed to the user. These tasks could be done ahead of the operations, allowing any issues to be resolved prior to beginning operations. Upon commencement of the operation, users were required to notify the system of the mission start, with the system notifying the user if permissions have been granted. The system took real time telemetry of each of the drones and fed this data into the GuardianUTM system. This allowed all users to see where all other users were. The system could then use this information along with any information known about manned aviation or “rogue” operators to send users notifications of any actions which would be required to be taken.
For Operation Zenith, CASCADE were involved in two scenarios which demonstrated this system in action. One scenario involved an aborted landing at Manchester airport with drones being required to clear the airspace by dropping to a height of 50 metres to allow the manned aircraft to safely pass by. The second scenario was a simulated shutting of the airspace, to allow a local police helicopter to operate in the area, forcing civilian users to halt operations and land. For both of these scenarios the GuardianUTM system performed deconflictions of the airspace notifying those users who were required to move out of the way or land via a notification protocol which appeared on the users flight computers, well before the aircraft causing the confliction could be seen by eye.
Although in their infancy, these kind of systems demonstrate a clear benefit to future users through the potential for flexible flying area and management of the airspace; allowing for more operators to be active in the same space. This would allow flight plans and permissions to be generated and submitted far quicker than the current systems, with constraint or acceptance/rejections being reported far quicker than the current system. This would also allow for a reduced number of spotters required for operations with the early warning systems and reduces the strain on traditional air traffic management with drone deconfliction happening automatically.
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