The United Kingdom, for the first time, approved a point-to-point flight of an unmanned aircraft in national airspace, enabling a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9B SkyGuardian/SeaGuardian to fly from Royal Air Force (RAF) Waddington in England to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.
The manufacturer announced the milestone on 16 September, noting that the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approved the SkyGuardian/SeaGuardian flight on 12 September that was controlled by National Air Traffic Services (NATS).
“The Airspace Co-ordination Notice issued by the CAA for this series of demonstration flights in UK airspace is the largest and most meticulous we have ever produced, so that the airspace integration of SeaGuardian is at the highest level of safety,” Tom Gratton, CAA Airspace Regulator, was quoted as saying. According to GA-ASI vice-president of International Strategic Development Robert Schoeffling, “This successful flight paves the way not only for future operations of Protector in UK airspace, but also for other civil and commercial [unmanned aircraft] flights.”
As noted by GA-ASI, the flight was in more complex airspace than any previous unmanned aircraft flights in the UK. “This flight required that we transfer control between multiple civil airspace sectors,” Mark Watson, Head of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management Service Integration for NATS, was quoted as saying. “The procedures for this flight were close to what we do already with conventional crewed aircraft. This helped us validate that our existing methods of control are equally applicable to controlling remotely crewed aircraft – when the aircraft performs like [SkyGuardian/]SeaGuardian.”