Qinetiq is stepping up its efforts to attract more developers and operators of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) to make use of its facilities at the West Wales UAV Centre at Aberporth, touting benefits including access to newly available dedicated airspace.
Flight operations with unmanned systems at the West Wales Airport site have recently passed the 2,500h mark, with development testing of the WK450 vehicle as part of the British Army's Thales UK-led Watchkeeper programme now making a significant contribution.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) from late July approved access from Aberporth to a 500 miles2 (1,300km2) block of airspace to be made available as required for UAV test activities. Qinetiq said this stretches around 40 miles inland and passes over a population of around 10,000 people.
"It was a three-year effort to get the airspace in, and it's the only place in the UK where the CAA will countenance UAV operations," said Carl Davies, project manager at the West Wales UAV Centre.
Davies cited access to local military test ranges and Qinetiq's safety pedigree as other key benefits of the Aberporth facility, which was established with the backing of the Welsh Assembly government.
Development activities and flight testing of each of the British Army's eventual 54 WK450 air vehicles will see Thales making use of the West Wales UAV Centre until at least 2014, Davies said at the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi) show in London.
Qinetiq is also seeking to attract commercial users, as the use of unmanned technologies is expected to increase over the coming years for applications including environmental monitoring. "We can use the airspace to start proving the integration of manned and unmanned systems," said Davies.