National Aeronautical Centre aimed at developing UK’s UAS potential

A new centre has been launched that is expected to put the UK at the forefront of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).

The National Aeronautical Centre (NAC) is the world’s first private facility for UAS development that has been created through a partnership between West Wales Airport and Newquay Cornwall Airport.

NAC will enable the UK to capitalise on what is recognised by the global aerospace community as one of the world’s major economic growth opportunities. It will do this by letting military and civilian UAS developers test, evaluate, train and demonstrate unmanned systems that can operate beyond line of sight in non-segregated airspace whilst satisfying the requirements of regulatory authorities.

‘Industry must develop…systems and subsystems that can contribute to safe and reliable operations that the regulator requires and – as soon as possible – develop standards as a basis for future regulation,’ said Ray Mann, head of the NAC who added that the new facility has the capacity to deliver the necessary services and accommodation for all sizes of UAS envisaged for production and development over the next 20 years.

‘We are, in this country, technically capable of flying large unmanned systems but confidence is still lacking in a number of different areas and one of those is command and control,’ said Mann at the launch of NAC on September 9, 2013. ‘This, amongst other things, needs to be demonstrated and that confidence needs to be built.’

Mann added that flying beyond line of sight can be defined as systems controlled from one country and ‘literally operated’ in another.

Clearing this technical hurdle will present UAS businesses with a myriad of opportunities, said Mann. Unmanned freight carriers could, for example, tap into a market currently worth $6.4 trillion, or 35 per cent of the world’s trade. Similarly, shipping lines currently spend around $133bn a year transiting from the Horn of Africa to the Cape, yet none of them use UAS as part of their security operations, said Mann.

He said, ‘Applications abound….we just need to be able to access it. Military applications today are considered to be worth £30bn per annum by 2020. The civilian applications are considered to be worth nearly £100bn.’

Facilities at West Wales Airport include a 1,200m runway and 2,000 square miles of capability over the sea and 500 sq miles over land, whilst Newquay boasts a 3,000m runway with 3,000 square miles of airspace.

‘With the NAC now established, the UK has a necessary…environment where regulated operations can be carried out with development capacity for years to come.

‘What we need is government…to encourage and incentivise all parts of industry to recognise and participate in the business potential. The window is wide open but for how long? We must recognise that this won’t be forever.’