Cranfield University testing shared airspace for drones

Cranfield University and Blue Bear Systems research have been given clearance to fly drones in the same airspace is manned aircraft in a new test corridor.

The two organisations have announced plans to create a National Beyond visual line of sight Experimentation Corridor” (NBEC) that will stretch across Bedfordshire from Blue Bear headquarters in Oakley to the Cranfield University Global Research Airport.

The program comes after the UK Government recently signalled its plans to make the country a pioneering centre through drone development and commercialisation through offering more scope for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) testing. The shared airspace there is also a key attraction for the NBEC.

According to Blue Bear: “The goal of the NBEC is to provide a safe, managed environment for drone/unmanned aircraft experimentation which will work towards their integration into controlled and uncontrolled airspace. Both Blue Bear and Cranfield believe the key to future drone operations is not segregation, but unification ensuring fair and equitable use of airspace for all.

“The creation of NBEC will allow new technologies to be integrated and tested together with the involvement of industry and regulatory stakeholders to provide a national capability that accelerates leading edge research.”

Ian Williams-Wynn, Managing Director of Blue Bear, commented: “The UK drone industry is going through an exciting evolution and is poised for growth. Operation under BVLOS alongside cooperative and non-cooperative air traffic in a managed environment provides a unique opportunity to maintain the UK at the forefront of drone application development, and future adoption.”

Professor Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University, said: “The potential of drones and unmanned vehicles to boost UK productivity is well documented and the technology is well developed. However, there are understandable regulatory concerns that need to be overcome about how they operate alongside manned aircraft”.