UK could be set for 165 mile drone superhighway

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A UK consortium led by United Traffic Management (UTM) software provider Altitude Angel plans to build the world’s largest and longest ‘drone superhighway’ network.

drone superhighway
Image credit: Altitude Angel

The drone superhighways would link UK towns and cities, initially connecting the Midlands with the Southeast and urban conurbations along the UK’s south coast.

Known as Project Skyway, the blueprint for a 165 mile (265km) drone superhighway has been submitted by the consortium aiming to connect airspace above cities including Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry and Rugby.

If plans are approved, there is an option to extend the superhighway to Southampton on the south coast and Ipswich on the east coast. A decision on whether to green light the project is expected in the coming weeks.

Project Skyway aims to enable businesses to develop and grow through commercialisation of innovative drone-based products, processes and services, the consortium said.

Richard Parker, Altitude Angel’s CEO and founder described it as the most ambitious transport project proposed for the country since the advent of the railway network.

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“Britain is at the forefront of a second transport revolution,” he said in a statement. “Drones have the potential to transport goods in a way our ancestors could never have imagined but would have surely understood. Britain can lead the world in these innovative and life-saving technologies, we have the skills and ambition to open our skies to safe and secure drone and air-taxi flights.”

The network will use detect and avoid (DAA) technology developed on the five mile (8km) Arrow Drone Zone built by Altitude Angel, south of Reading.

Existing drone corridors or research facilities restrict access to operators by imposing financial barriers, the consortium said. The new superhighway plans to support fully automated drone flights beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) from any drone company which completes a series of basic technical integrations, which don’t require specialist hardware on-board.

Congestion in the first 1000ft is predicted to increase, becoming the densest area of airspace as it evolves through the use of unmanned General Aviation (GA) and other civil aviation. Project Skyway technology aims to permit ease of access while monitoring deconfliction, without the need to close airspace as is the case today.

Skyway partners will collaborate to deploy the DAA solution where possible on existing infrastructure, in combination with UTM software-as-a-service, to enable greater awareness of manned and unmanned traffic to all stakeholders.

According to Altitude Angel, the UTM will enable fight requests, approvals, deconfliction and provide a single-source-point-of-truth for all traffic on the Project Skyway corridors through combined manned and unmanned situational awareness.

Project Skyway will make this ‘combined air picture’ available to larger groups of airspace users through existing solution providers, such as those providing existing planning and tracking products.

Once the initial UK highway is established, Altitude Angel said it will make the technology available to allow any organisation, airport, town or city in the UK or beyond to establish and operate a ‘superhighway’ quickly, easily and cost-effectively through a simple licencing agreement.