Leading drone operators have called on the UK Government to change the way uncrewed aviation is regulated.
The comments come in a new white paper published by the BVLOS Operations Forum, a consortium of advanced drone and technology companies pioneering the use of remotely piloted aircraft beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).
South of the Clouds: A roadmap to the next generation of uncrewed aviation sets out the industry’s vision of how new types of aircraft, like drones, can be integrated into the UK’s busy skies, and what steps the government needs to take to make it happen.
Forum member organisations are already using drones to deliver cancer treatments and vital medical supplies to patients in remote areas; in search and rescue operations by HM Coastguard; and for conducting infrastructure inspections and monitoring in a safer, more sustainable way. However, UK regulations having evolved more slowly than the technologies in this sector, these types of remotely piloted flights are limited to very restricted areas of airspace, making regular commercial services difficult to deliver. South of the Clouds presents a collective industry view of how policymakers could address that problem.
“This White Paper has been co-created by the Forum to outline the imperative of uncrewed flight,” said Russell Porter, chair of the BVLOS Operations Forum and head of UTM stakeholder engagement at air traffic services company NATS.
“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.
“While there have been positive developments, not least in the Future Flight Challenge and the recently published Airspace Modernisation Strategy, we need to go further, faster, if we are to make uncrewed aircraft a safe and effective option in the aeronautical toolbox,” he said.
Among the policy recommendations is a call for all aircraft to be equipped with electronic conspicuity technology to show their location – without this, drones would effectively be flying blind to what’s around them – as well as reform of the regulatory system to enable remotely piloted flights in more areas of airspace, rather than restricted or temporary environments.
Also proposed is a roadmap that sets out a vision for how airspace could be managed for uncrewed aircraft in the future, and the steps required to get there, so that those in the industry can plan and invest accordingly.
“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,” Porter added.
“The next generation of aviation is coming, and now is the time to act to make it a reality.”