The skies above central England are now part of the world’s biggest drone highway as government and industry join forces to modernize the country’s aviation sector. UK authorities have agreed to link airspace between cities along a 165-mile corridor that will allow drones to fly unmanned across the Midlands and southern England.
The Skyway project is part of a $330m (£273m) aerospace investment by the UK government, which includes autonomous deliveries of mail and medical supplies by drone, as part of a transition to technologies low-carbon flight. The urban centers are connected in a T-shaped network which includes Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Rugby and Coventry.
The project is led by unmanned air traffic management specialist Altitude Angel, whose ARROW technology will allow drones to fly beyond visual line of sight without colliding with or endangering other aircraft. The drones will operate autonomously at altitudes of up to 400 feet in a five mile (eight kilometer) wide corridor, with a north and south lane automatically tracked and fed air traffic control data using tower mounted sensors.
The company says drone noise at 400ft will be barely noticeable and the width of the hallway will ensure the craft are spread out so they don’t cause a disturbance. More importantly, he says, is what Skyway will do for society, as analysts predict drones could be worth $54bn (£45bn) to the UK economy by 2030. Globally, the commercial drone market is expected to reach $500 billion.
Drone deliveries across Britain will include mail and parcels, food, medical test kits, vaccines and blood. Coventry University and others are working in partnership to develop regional and national medical delivery networks that link hospitals and health clinics. Around 2.5 million units of blood are processed and distributed each year in the UK, and drone flights will help reduce the 17% national carbon dioxide emissions from HGV deliveries each year.
Trials conducted in 2021 also tested the ability of autonomous drones to assist emergency services in traffic accidents and in search and rescue missions, as well as to inspect energy, telecommunications and utility infrastructure. transportation.
Altitude Angel CEO and founder Richard Parker has called Skyway the UK’s most ambitious transport project since its rail network was built in the 18th century. “Drones have the potential to transport goods in ways our ancestors never could have imagined, but surely would have understood,” he said. “Using this technology as a foundation, we can create networks spanning the length and breadth of Britain.”
Delivery services have been quietly ramping up around the world for some time. Fixed-wing drone operator Zipline launched blood deliveries to Rwanda in 2016 and partnered with Walmart in November 2021 to airlift healthcare supplies to Arkansas. The company says its drones have flown more than 275,000 commercial flights.
New York State is also increasing funding to conduct test flights in a 50-mile drone corridor between Rome and Syracuse. While transportation departments in Alaska, New York, and North Carolina use drones to monitor and inspect road and rail networks, including mapping and creating 3D models to detect structural defects. Alaska alone averages 8-12 bridge inspections each day. Nations are steadily working towards a future where robotic flight is an everyday activity.