Two UK airports have joined to create a “National Aeronautical Center” (NAC) to develop, test and demonstrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). West Wales Airport at Aberporth and Newquay Cornwall Airport in southwest England will jointly offer their facilities and runways, along with access to offshore testing areas, to UAS developers. The partners officially launched the center at the Royal Society in London on September 9.
West Wales Airport (WWA) has operated UAS beyond visual line of sight since 2004 under authorization from the UK Civil Aviation Authority. Speaking at the launch event, Ray Mann, WWA managing director, said the pairing with Newquay Cornwall Airport enhances the resources available for training and testing of both civil and military UAS. Newquay has a 10,000-foot runway, compared to WWA’s 4,000 feet, and access to 3,000 square miles of offshore test airspace, bringing total available airspace to 5,000 square miles. The NAC provides the capability to test “anything developed by the aerospace industry over the next 20 years,” he said.
Richard Deakin, CEO of air navigation service provider NATS, said authorities are planning for operations of the Thales Watchkeeper UAS in controlled airspace, which would be “a world first.” The European Union’s Single European Sky ATM Research (Sesar) program is funding the effort, which could lead to Watchkeeper flights next summer following simulations outside controlled airspace in April. The Watchkeeper, under development for the British Army, has flown for four years at WWA, accumulating more than 300 flights. Selex ES has also used the facility for its Falco UAS, Mann said.