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BT Aim to Establish UK’s First Commercial Drone Corridor

Tuesday, December 15th, 2020 (12:01 am) - Score 2,352
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Broadband and mobile giant BT has today announced that they will lead a new Government backed consortium as part of ‘Project XCelerate‘, which seeks to establish the UK’s first commercial drone corridor in open and unrestricted airspace (i.e. enabling automated drones and manned aviation to safely co-exist).

The project, which is supported by the Future Flight Challenge Fund, envisages a future where drones could be used for all sorts of industry tasks, such as assisting the police with road traffic incidents (faster and cheaper response than helicopters), assessing high-voltage electricity pylons, supporting search and rescue teams and transferring medical supplies between rural hospitals.

As part of this the first commercial drone corridor is expected to be established south of Reading (Berkshire) during Summer 2021. The area will see flight trials being conducted along an 8km-long corridor, which seeks to demonstrate how drones can operate safely in the same airspace as manned aviation.

The expectation is that BT will leverage their 4G and 5G based mobile broadband network through EE in order to keep these drones connected, which will help to support their control and navigation when away from a home base. Ensuring such connectivity is both secure and difficult to jam (i.e. risk of malicious hackers) will no doubt be key factors in all this.

Gerry McQuade, CEO of BT’s Enterprise unit, said:

“As drone numbers continue to rise, there is an urgent need to safely integrate commercial drones into global airspace alongside manned aviation. In showing how drones can deliver improved, potentially life-saving services to the public, we’re aiming to accelerate the adoption of fully automated drones in unrestricted UK airspace in a safe and responsible way.

From improved mobility, connectivity, healthcare and manufacturing output, to reduced road congestion and pollution, automated drone technology will transform the quality of our lives. BT’s role in the consortium is to bring world-leading drone expertise together and to provide the secure and resilient mobile network connectivity, as well as our drone detection services.

The power of EE’s 4G and 5G networks will ensure commercial drones remain connected for greater situational awareness, accurate positioning and to avoid collisions – ensuring that they can be operated safely and responsibly across UK skies.”

We should add that at present the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) outlines that drones have to operate within the pilot’s Visual Line Of Sight (VLOS), unless granted a permission by the CAA. But the concept of operating drones BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight), as above, means that they are able to fly beyond visual range of the remote pilot by using appropriate technology to safely identify, locate and control drones.

The BT Group already has some experience of drones via Openreach, which has specialist teams of engineers who have used the DJI Mavic drone to both carry fibre optic broadband cables and to assess difficult locations from the air (here). But that was only VLOS and not BVLOS based.

Some of the others involved in this consortium include Altitude Angel, drone technology experts from Dronecloud, HeroTech8 and Skyports, cyber security provider Angoka, and end user experts SkyBound Rescuer and DroneStream.

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