A developer from Berkshire is hoping to create the UK’s first “commercial drone corridor” and get it operational within months, to show how drones could be deployed safely and effectively for everything from package delivery to large-scale surveying.
Altitude Angel is looking to install a corridor where drones would be permitted by law to fly out of sight of their pilots. It would achieve this thanks to a new “detect and avoid” system, to ensure devices do not come into contact with any other user of the space.
Supporters say the development, named Project Arrow, could be put to great use – including delivery of medical supplies much more quickly than is possible on the roads. It could also be used to allow easier surveying of large or remote buildings, or simply to deliver items to those living within range.
The use of drones to deliver medical supplies is nothing new, with trials undertaken last year to provide greater resilience for hospitals on the Isle of Wight. The coronavirus pandemic prompted a sharp decline in the number of ferry services across the Solent, which had the knock-on effect of delaying crucial deliveries between the island and mainland. As such, drones that could make the journey in as little as 10 minutes were trialled, for transporting urgent supplies – including blood, PPE and organs for transplant.
Though the original trial didn’t utilise the drones’ maximum payload, some of the largest are said to be able to carry 100kg of cargo for up to 1,000km.
Altitude Angel’s ambitions stretch far beyond the five-mile stretch of airspace near Reading, though. Company spokesperson Stephen Farmer told the BBC: “We want to set up highways in the sky around the UK, in the same way the rail network was built.”
To sign off developments such as these, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requires them to be safe, the pilot to be competent, and for there to be an Operations Manual detailing how flights will be conducted. It has already said a decision on the Berkshire drone corridor would be made “fairly quickly”, and added that it had been approached by a large number of other companies looking to advance the safe commercial use of drones elsewhere around the UK.