Initial funding for the UK’s Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment (ASTRAEA) initiative is expected to be announced this week, starting a multi-year effort to normalise unmanned air vehicle operations in UK airspace.

The launch funding is expected to be provided by the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and regional government agencies, with announcements to be made at this week’s unmanned air vehicle flying day at ParcAberporth, Wales.

The total cost of the project has previously been forecast as potentially up to £80 million ($140 million) to implement fully over a five-year period.

ASTRAEA, set up by the DTI in July 2004, aims to carry out a major demonstration of routine UAV operations in non-segregated airspace by 2010.

The integrated programme will include review of existing UK air traffic policy, development of certification standards, and development of sense-and-avoid technologies. BAE Systems is the programme lead for industrial co-ordination, and the Welsh Development Agency is co-ordinating UK regional agency and local government involvement in the project.

The ParcAberporth UAV centre of excellence, being developed by the Welsh Development Agency with the support of European Commission funds, is being targeted as the main co-ordination centre for ASTRAEA. The facility is also the home of the recently launched Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association’s (UAVS) Unmanned Systems Services company, the world’s first UAV certification firm that is undertaking that task under devolved responsibility arrangements negotiated with the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

The ASTRAEA programme will build on an intensive five-year UAV airspace integration effort by the UK CAA. Current CAA policy – CAP 772 – provides much scope to open up airspace, but “is still evolving and will continue to be modified as progress is made”, says Geoff Bowker, CAP 772 sponsor in the CAA’s directorate of airspace policy. The CAA has an observer role on the ASTRAEA steering board and on the ParcAberporth pan-government stakeholder group.

Bowker says CAP 772 reflects close co-ordination by the CAA with the UK MoD, UAVS and participation in a variety of common European integration including those headed by EASA and Eurocontrol. He adds that the policy has generated “a lot of approaches from a number of European nations who have taken a great interest in the book, and are taking a number of principles from it for themselves”.

But new challenges continue to emerge, he says. “The UK CAA has for many years recognised the need for UAV regulation for predominantly civil UAVs. We are at a unique point in aviation history, and it would be helpful if our civil UAV regulation was also in register with military.”

Source: Flight International