A series of simulations conducted by Project CAELUS and air traffic management service, NATS has advanced the prospect of remotely piloted drone flights operating to and from some of the UK’s busiest airports.

These simulations were run at NATS’ head office in Hampshire to demonstrate how drones could be seamlessly integrated with other air traffic at airports. This included drone operators filing flight plans, flying in and out of the airport and being safely deconflicted with other aircraft.

The simulations taking place at NATS’ head office in Hampshire
The simulations taking place at NATS’ head office in Hampshire

This work is part of Project CAELUS, which is a UKRI industry collaboration of 16 partners including AGS Airports, University of Strathclyde, NATS and NHS Scotland, aiming to use drones to transport essential medical supplies throughout Scotland.

The project’s first test flight took place at Glasgow Airport in 2023. Here, a drone flew to the nearby NHS Golden Jubilee hospital.

Now, NATS’s concept development and simulation work provides valuable insight into how a single flight can be safely scaled up to include dozens of drones flying Beyond Visual Line of Sight across Scotland and beyond.

A drone carrying essential medical supplies
A drone carrying essential medical supplies
Fiona Smith, AGS Airports Group Head of Aerodrome Strategy and Project CAELUS Director, said:

We have continued to see some valuable collaboration and innovation across Project CAELUS and this latest work led by NATS truly demonstrates our ambition to forge a new path.

Our first live flight trial last year was incredibly important and demonstrated a means of integrating drones into an airport environment. This year, we look forward to showcasing many more demonstrations including a ramped up flying programme across Scotland and we are delighted to kick start that programme with this exciting NATS showcase.

Throughout this stage of the project, the airspace integration was overseen by a new Airspace Manager function using new technology developed by NATS.

As part of the proposed operations, this technology would help ensure direct voice communication between drone operators and air traffic control would only be required by exception, such as in the emergency situations demonstrated during the simulations.

Richard Ellis, NATS New Airspace Users Director, said:

Everything we’re doing is striving towards enabling the seamless, safe integration of drones and other new airspace users into our skies. There is a lot of work still to do, including the development and approval of new technology and regulations, but I believe what we and our Project CAELUS partners are doing will help support that process and is taking us a step closer to an exciting future.

Further test flights for Project CAELUS are now planned for later this year.


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