Drone superhighway to connect English cities

  • March 29, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson

A consortium led by unified traffic management (UTM) software provider Altitude Angel plans to build a network of drone superhighways linking towns and cities across the UK.

It will initially connect the Midlands with the south-east and those urban conurbations along England’s south coast.

The consortium has submitted plans for a 265km drone superhighway connecting airspace above cities including Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry and Rugby. If the plans are approved there is an option to extend the superhighway to Southampton on the south coast and Ipswich on the east coast.

The blueprint for the superhighway, known as Project Skyway, will enable businesses to develop and grow through the commercialisation of drone-based products, processes and services. A decision on whether to green light the project is expected in the coming weeks.

“This is the most ambitious transport project proposed for the country since the advent of the railway network in the 18th century,” said Richard Parker, CEO of UK firm Altitude Angel. “Britain is at the forefront of a second transport revolution. Drones have the potential to transport goods in a way our ancestors could never have imagined but would have surely understood. Britain can lead the world in these innovative and life-saving technologies. We have the skills and ambition to open our skies to safe and secure drone and air-taxi flights.”

With the government’s support, using this technology as its foundation, he said it was possible to create networks spanning the length and breadth of Britain: “A super-highway-network-in-the-sky, providing a critical digital infrastructure which will, in-turn, enable the world’s first truly national drone economy.”

Using detect and avoid (DAA) technology developed on the 8km Arrow Drone Zone built by Altitude Angel south of Reading, the superhighway network will help unlock the potential offered by unmanned aerial vehicles and could be a catalyst to enable growth in the urban air mobility industry.

Unlike existing drone corridors or research facilities that restrict access to operators by imposing punitive financial barriers to fly, the superhighway will be able to support fully automated drone flights beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) from any drone company that completes a series of basic technical integrations, which, crucially, don’t require specialist hardware on-board the drone.

Congestion in the first 300m is predicted to increase, becoming the densest area of airspace as it evolves through the use of unmanned, general aviation and other civil aviation. Project Skyway technology will permit ease of access, while monitoring deconfliction, without the need to close airspace as is the case today.

Skyway partners will collaborate to deploy the DAA, where possible on existing infrastructure, in combination with UTM software-as-a-service, to enable greater awareness of manned and unmanned traffic to all stakeholders.

By connecting the towns and cities along the superhighways, businesses, and organisations within them will be able to use and adopt the technology, empowering them to grow, and deploy drones in a safe and repeatable manner.

The UTM will enable flight requests, approvals and deconfliction, and provides a single-source-point-of-truth for all traffic on the Project Skyway corridors through combined manned and unmanned situational awareness. Project Skyway makes this combined air picture available to larger groups of airspace users through existing providers, such as those providing existing planning and tracking products to, for example, general aviation and commercial air transport.

Once the initial highway is established, Altitude Angel says it will make the technology available to any organisation, airport, town or city in the UK or beyond that wants to establish and operate a superhighway quickly, easily and cost-effectively through a licensing agreement.