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Automated unmanned aerial vehicles beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight in unrestricted airspace is a very significant barrier to overcome in order to realize the vision of mass-commercial drone usage. UAS traffic management (UTM) systems are one of the major technologies needed for the regulation of this field.

The Thames Valley to the west of London will be the site of what is expected to be the world’s first commercial ‘super-highway’ drone corridor in open and unrestricted airspace.  

Unlike existing drone corridors or research facilities where the airspace is typically restricted or closed to general aviation traffic by redefining the airspace as a Temporary Danger Area (TDA), the Arrow Drone Zone will be in open and unrestricted airspace.  This means drones and general aviation will be sharing the same airspace in a real-world environment. 

The site will be available to support fully automated drone flights beyond visual line-of-sight from any drone company which completes a series of basic technical integrations which, crucially, don’t require specialist hardware on-board the drone.

The zone will be approximately 8km in length and 500m wide and will serve to extend enhanced Detect and Avoid capabilities to drones flying within the Zone.

Plans have been submitted to the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority. The project is part of the CAA’s Innovation Sandbox under the moniker ‘Project Arrow’ and will be operated and managed by Altitude Angel, a UAS traffic management software provider.

Drones flying within the ‘Arrow Drone Zone’ will be tracked and monitored via the company’s UTM platform, GuardianUTM O/S, which communicates with ground and aerial infrastructure to provide automated navigation for drones flying within the Zone, pre-flight authorizations and automatic separation assurance.

Nearby manned aviation and even other non-participating drones are mapped in real-time so safe distances are maintained, and appropriate avoidance actions can be taken if they are predicted to be breached. If a conflict is detected, drones involved will be automatically given appropriate avoidance instructions, such as an instruction to change flight path, hold, return or land. A remote pilot will also be alerted, and manual control of the drone can be taken at any time. 

Drones flying within Arrow Drone Zones need no specialist equipment, such as new sensors, to utilize the Zone, according to uasweekly.com.