In concert with NATS and the CAA, Airspace4All Ltd will research, gather data and recommend key changes that will modernise the UK airspace construct and enable integration of VFR flights into the ATM environment. The use of VFR flight plans and data sharing between ATSUs would reduce controller time and effort, provide clearer predictability of VFR traffic demand, improve network capability and reduce pilot workload.
When FASVIG (now Airspace4All) was formed, one of its first projects concerned the use of VFR flight plans to pre-note interaction with CAS and ATS units to reduce RTF and controller workload and to make flights more predictable. This failed to achieve support from NATS because systems at Swanwick could not process a single flight plan that would facilitate GA VFR users to fly across the country with all ANSPs en-route being informed of their intentions and requirements. Moreover, standard FPL addressing did not include en-route ANSPS.
However, NATS set up its own notification system based on a web-based app with an airspace portal which worked for transit via London airports for which NATS was the ANSP.
Whilst the airspace portal worked successfully it had a number of limitations:
• It was only designed to pre-notify intended airspace crossings for London airports at which NATS is the ANSP.
• It requires manual input by the pilot or operator which is cumbersome and prone to error.
• It is another UK-only process.
• The scope (and therefore take-up) was limited.
• It does not provide the range of benefits that the envisioned system would provide.
• It does not use the ICAO standard and AFTN addressing used by the rest of the World.
There is, of course, no current requirement to submit a flight plan for VFR flights in the UK and this should continue to be the case. However, pilots who wish to pre-note their intentions for either a pre-planned route or voluntarily make their intentions known (to aid situational awareness for other airspace users – or cut down the amount of RT required should their situation and intentions change) or even plan ahead for a potential change of intentions should be able to do so easily – ideally at a touch of a button on their preferred flight planning application.
Airspace4All is therefore scoping the capabilities of the options currently available (advantages/limitations) and, in consultation with technology providers and ANSPs, looking to identify options and benefits that may be open to enable pilots to voluntarily submit their VFR flight plans to contribute to the known intention traffic environment. For example, ATS providers would already have on hand flight details whenever pilots ask for services, reducing pilot/ATCO/FISO workload and reducing the volume of R/T traffic.
One of the principal aims of integration is to try and reduce “that which is unknown” and thereby mitigate against airspace infringements and Airspace4All acknowledges that there is a great deal of valuable work being undertaken by local teams, at many airports, to see how infringement risk is being addressed. Accordingly, Airspace4All is looking to incorporate and support the work being undertaken by the Local Airspace Infringement Teams.
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.
In concert with the CAA-Chaired Moving Maps Display Working Group Airspace4All has sponsored the production of a Moving Maps Concept of Operations (CONOPS). Whereas the Working Group members are broadly content with the arguments and recommendations that are presented in this CONOPS it has yet to be fully endorsed by the CAA. In order to try and move the initiatives highlighted the document has been distributed to Industry to gain their feedback. As a “living document” it will be further shaped through the Working Group process.