A private initiative to supply a test, evaluation, demonstration and experimentation facility for beyond-line-of-sight (BLoS) unmanned air systems (UAS) operations in the U.K. took an important step forward with the formal launch of the National Aeronautical Centre (NAC) Sept. 9.
The center pools unique resources — two large tracts of segregated airspace, totaling more than 5,000 sq. mi. (~13,000 sq. km) over land and sea, where unmanned aircraft can be flown at altitudes between 5,000 and 66,000 ft. (1,524-20,117 meters) without every sortie requiring a time-consuming portfolio of mission-specific authorizations.
Ray Mann, NAC’s managing director, believes the facility gives the U.K. a strategic national advantage in the race to win a significant slice of the international UAS market, estimated currently at around $4.7 billion. He predicts that, partly as a result of the Center’s existence, commercial flights of BLoS UAS in non-segregated airspace could take place in Britain within five years.
“For the moment it’s important, as far as the regulator is concerned, for all activity that flies beyond line-of-sight to be operating within segregated areas,” Mann says. “The NAC has enough capacity now, with these two centers, to be able to deliver the necessary services and accommodation of all size of UAS for at least the next 20 years. What we’ve produced here [is] an ability for industry to move forward and create and demonstrate their systems, and have those systems regulated.
“We’re beginning to package capability around the NAC, so that if anybody comes with anything, we can deliver them the combination to suit,” he says.