The future of parcel deliveries made via drone just became one step closer to reality in the UK, with the creation of the world’s first ‘flight corridor’ – a commercial airspace created specifically for drones.
The new ‘aerial highway’ for drones, to be located just south of Reading in the south-east of England, will span eight kilometres and measure 500 metres in width.
The new drone flight path will reportedly operate in a very similar way to other controlled airspaces used by commercial jets, helicopters and light aircraft.
Along this corridor, drone pilots will be able to control the drones beyond their line of sight, which is a practice currently not allowed under existing regulations.
A new air traffic control system specifically for unmanned devices will monitor the corridor, and feed automated instructions to the drones in order to keep them away from each other, or change path if they are at risk of crashing.
The ambitious move still needs to be formally approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), however it is hoped that the corridor could be up and running by next year, and begin the first large-scale trial of its kind.
Parcels, medical supplies, and blood or tissue samples are some examples of the kinds of packages that may be transported via drones along this corridor.
Under current national regulations, drones must be flown away from built-up areas, must remain within the pilot’s visual range, and cannot fly above 400 feet in order to avoid other aircraft.
However, Reading-based aviation technology company Altitude Angel has created a system that monitors drone movement, which could see drones granted a lot more freedom of movement.
The new drone-specific air traffic control system uses radars and multiple tracking sensors to track drone movement within the corridor, and can intervene if drones are not moving as directed, or an imminent threat is seen.
The new control system and drone corridor will initially be tested with two drones, each travelling in either direction, following CAA approval.
The testing will then be ramped up to include up to four drone lanes in each direction, as well as up to three highways running at different altitudes.
Richard Parker, founder and chief executive of Altitude Angel, told the media: “The size of this step cannot be underestimated. Beyond visual line of sight automated flight in unrestricted airspace is a very significant barrier to overcome in order to realise the vision of mass-commercial drone usage.”
The development comes just weeks after the first drone delivery tests were completed by US retail conglomerate Walmart, which saw the first online orders delivered to customers via drone in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
It also followed the news that retail giant Amazon received its official FAA approval to operate its own delivery drones within the US.