The large-scale collaborative project, which is both a UK-first and a designated Government Drone Pathfinder Project, is celebrating the successful completion of the first stage of BVLOS flight trials.
Conducted in segregated airspace and by Wiltshire based aviation specialists, Callen-Lenz, the trials covered an unprecedented total distance of 688km BVLOS over a combined 640 minutes.
Organisers said the completion marks a key milestone in the journey towards establishing a regularised framework for the use of drones BVLOS in the UK.
The three-year programme, coordinated by the EIC, began in May 2018 and is led by Wales & West Utilities in collaboration with Cadent, National Grid Gas Transmission, Northern Gas Networks, Northern Powergrid, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks and UK Power Networks, and supported by Connected Places Catapult.
By working with the CAA, the initiative is exploring how the application of drone technology could transform the way the industry carries out essential maintenance tasks.
The first phase of trials in the three-year project focused on evaluating specific technologies and techniques that will support the eventual business as usual implementation of BVLOS flight operations on both gas and electricity network assets.
In particular, the trials looked at the testing of satellite, cellular and mesh communications; the integration of novel ground centring technologies; evaluation of existing technologies; risk management; operational parameters and aircraft suitability.
The subsequent report concluded that no significant operational issues were found that would present a problem and produced essential learning points and technical outputs that will shape the next stage of flight trials in ‘normal’ airspace – ultimately supporting the generation of the necessary permissions from the CAA.
Richard Trueman, COO at Callen Lenz, commented: “Callen-Lenz are delighted to be working with the EIC and our network partners, making great progress with the CAA and other stakeholders to help enable routine commercial BVLOS capabilities on network assets.”
Adding: “The recent segregated airspace trials were extremely successful, and we look forward to conducting the non-segregated airspace trials in 2020.”
While Tony Knowles, project manager at the EIC, said: “The resounding success of these trials really reinforces the value and benefits of the project for the networks and consumers. It’s great to be supporting cross-sector collaboration, and to see networks coming together to combine their knowledge and resources, in order to further improve current practices.”