Agency hopes this week’s demonstration will woo industry to move to ParcAberporth

Efforts to turn a remote Welsh aerodrome into Europe’s main centre for designing and testing unmanned air vehicles step up a gear this week. The Welsh Development Agency (WDA) – owner of ParcAberporth on the west Wales coast – hopes to persuade some of the 60 companies taking part in its second UAV flying demonstration on 7 September to move to the technology park, alongside West Wales Airport.


A “household name” in the UAV sector is understood to be close to moving into one of the units, while Elbit Systems and Thales have been using ParcAberporth for trials of the Hermes 450 UAV chosen for the UK’s Watchkeeper surveillance requirement.

Two organisations involved in UAV certification and operator training are already established at the facility, which is next to a Ministry of Defence coastal missile firing range. They are Unmanned Systems Services, the first company to be authorised by the Civil Aviation Authority to certificate UAVs up to 150kg, and the European UAV Systems Centre, which will provide training and help UAV companies organise flying trials at ParcAberporth.

The WDA hopes the CAA will eventually allow UAVs to fly in a restricted zone around the airport without needing specific permission. “The ultimate goal is to be able to take off at any time,” says WDA innovation and technology manager Dr Sue Wolfe.

Mann Organisation, which bought West Wales Airport from the MoD two years ago, is banking on the expansion of ParcAberporth bringing new business, and plans to build a new terminal and hotel on the site. A related air charter business, Mann Air, is looking to add a Cessna CitationJet to its two Piper Navajos, says owner Geoff Benton.

A bigger challenge for the agency may be finding tenants for its other flagship aerospace site – RAF St Athan near Cardiff, home to the MoD’s Defence Aviation Repair Agency (DARA). The 140ha base is dominated by DARA’s 45,000m2 (484,000ft2) “superhangar”, which opened this year but is operating well below capacity because of the MoD’s decision to transfer maintenance of several combat aircraft to operating bases and industry.


Source: Flight International