It has been predicted that within a couple of years, drones will be above us all the time. They will operate in a sub-layer of the sky, below commercial flight paths and military jets. But their flight paths will need to be coordinated. This is so they don’t smash into each other while delivering cargo, ferrying people, and inspecting things like wind turbines and bridges. No one needs to be rained on by smashing drones, thanks.
A sub-layer of air traffic control has been conceived to address this. It will work using both distributed ledger tech (DLT), blockchain, and automation. Research around this new sub-layer in the aviation industry is already well underway. The idea is to improve safety, cybersecurity and interoperability.
Cranfield researchers are part of this project. They say the system will integrate an ecosystem of crewed and uncrewed aircraft in the UK’s skies.
These researchers say that uncrewed aerial vehicles are already bringing benefits to humans. Examples given are solving medical logistical problems in isolated areas, and inspecting difficult-to-reach infrastructure, like high masts.
The researchers say that a new air traffic management system will “open up a new age of commercial opportunities for the aviation sector, as well as drone-enhanced public services: urban air taxis, cargo and delivery services, security operations, healthcare support and environmental monitoring.”
According to PWC and UKRI, a new industry around uncrewed and autonomous aviation will be worth an estimated £42bn to the UK economy by 2030. This is thanks to new jobs, cost savings, and productivity gains. Once this new industry is established, a hybrid airspace is predicted to be in place from around 2024.