There is an increasing demand to fly drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) in Class G airspace. This potentially brings those drones into contact with manned aviation flying VFR in the same airspace, which includes General Aviation (GA), commercial air transport and military users. Whilst there is an industry aspiration to fully integrate drones with VFR traffic, the small size of drones prevents their visual detection by pilots and this hampers their inclusion into the airspace.

This project aims to work together with NATS to trial the detectability of ADS-B equipped drones to GA pilots equipped through the FAS VFR Integration Programme (FASVIP). This leverages the current FAS-funded FASVIP work stream addressing electronic conspicuity, previous FASVIP work to catalogue VFR Areas of Significant Interest (VSA Register), the FASVIG paper “Integration of RPAS into Class G Airspace” (26th February 2017) and the NATS EC work previously carried out in 2016/2017.

The project will also propose a concept of operation for conflict resolution between drones and GA aircraft to allow each aircraft to remain well clear of each other. Finally, the project will address improving visibility of information to inform drone pilots of likely areas of intense GA activity to help plan flights to avoid them.

The anticipated benefit is to accelerate the safe integration of drones into Class G airspace whilst minimising the risk to existing manned aviation (GA and Commercial Air Transport), also using Class G airspace, by exploiting an interoperable technology solution. Initial trial work carried out at Manchester Barton, using ADS-B equipment that was procured for use in our ongoing trial there and drone-specific equipment, has allowed us to gather useful data on drone-to-aircraft, aircraft-to-drone operator and aircraft/drone-to-ATS unit. We are currently looking to expand this trial to include upper strobes for the drones to aid sense-and-avoid to cue see-and-avoid and also to include BHPA paramotors in the trial to investigate the utility of this technology in that environment.

An additional offshoot to this programme of work will be to enable us to web-base our VFR Significant Area “heat maps” and to expand our data set by including historical primary radar tracks from NATS. The aim being to try and build a more comprehensive picture of where aircraft fly in non-regulated airspace and therefore aid the airspace change process by being able to highlight how changes to regulated airspace can either hamper or help GA.

This is part of the Airspace4All Project on Integrating All Air Traffic Types Within Regulated Airspace, Safely and Predictably.