An ambitious research and development project backed by Cirium, the global aviation analytics company, has received financial funding from the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
The project is aimed at enabling the use of commercial drones at airports alongside traditional passenger aircraft.
As part of this discovery work, the initial use case for the autonomous drone technology will be to support the increasing drone cargo market.
It will also develop integration plans for the safe and efficient use of cargo drones in UK airspace and transport items, such as medical supplies or aircraft spare parts.
Cirium is leading the project, one of over 40 in the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Flight Challenge programme. The project has a multi-disciplined consortium in UTM solutions, including; Anra Technologies, Neuron Innovations, Distributed Avionics, University of Southampton and Connected Places Catapult.
The project is in phase two of the Challenge, receiving a share of the UK government’s £30 million grant. Across all the Future Flight Challenge phases, the projects’ funding will total around £125 million.
These grants are awarded to the most forward-thinking teams and projects that deliver on safeguarding the UK’s advantage in Research and Development (R&D) in aviation, reducing aviation emissions, and creating economic opportunities from new forms of air mobility.
Together with a consortium of industry leaders in the Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) space, Cirium will research and prototype the use of large drone technology to transport cargo across the UK’s vast network of airfields point-to-point using existing airport infrastructure.
Alex Brooker, Cirium Senior Director Strategy, said: “Using automated drones to deliver cargo will create new economically viable route opportunities in the UK’s domestic air freight market, ensuring time-sensitive, high-value goods can be transported to anywhere in the country faster than ever before and with a lower carbon footprint.
“The UK has a network of over 150 airfields, and most places in the UK are within 20 miles of their nearest micro-hub. Many of these airports are under-utilised with the untapped capacity we can help exploit.
“With funding from the UK government, we will seek to introduce routine drone operations between airports, taking vehicles off the roads, while generating economic growth at the same time.”
Business Minister Paul Scully, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “This exciting innovation from Cirium, backed by £30 million government funding, will allow cargo drones to fly safely and efficiently within UK airspace, delivering anything from spare parts to medical supplies.
“By replacing road traffic with emissions-free drones, this scheme showcases the UK at the cutting edge of the emerging clean flight technologies that will help us build back greener and end our contribution to climate change by 2050.”
Gary Cutts, Future Flight Challenge Director, said: “There is great potential to use existing infrastructure and airfields to improve transport connections for people, goods and services across the UK.
“At Future Flight, we’re aiming to start the third revolution in aviation and projects like ATOMICUS are leading the way in helping us deliver the aviation system of the future.”
The consortium will be working closely with the Guild of Air Traffic Control Officers (GATCO), the Welsh Government and Aerospace Wales to develop and demonstrate the prototypes.
This involves both Cardiff and St. Athan airports and will also address some of the local geographical and economic challenges faced in the region. It will especially unlock cost savings and productivity gains in the logistics market, given the accessibility of these airports.