Carried out at Manchester Airport, UK, the comprehensive ‘Operation Zenith’ drone integration trial consisted of eight complete scenarios where potential drone usage could occur around an airport.

Altitude Angel’s GuardianUTM Airspace Management Operating System was fully integrated into the air traffic control tower at Manchester Airport, along with Frequentis’ smartSTRIPS.

Operation Zenith was successfully and collectively staged by Altitude Angel, along with UK Air Navigation Service Provider NATS, Manchester Airport and a number of delivery partners, including Frequentis.

An exclusive delegation of over 120 influential people saw first-hand how the Frequentis and Altitude Angel converged air traffic management (ATM) / unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM) solution enables a wide range of commercial and recreational drone operations to be safely integrated into everyday operations, including the runway of a major international airport.

The event was live-streamed to the Royal Aeronautical Society in London’s Mayfair.

Frequentis smartSTRIPS played a vital part in two scenarios in the trial providing situational awareness for controllers to see all planned movements at a glance. The first was on-airfield delivery, demonstrating the safe use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to deliver parts or equipment without causing disruption in a busy, complex and dynamic airfield environment.

CADAS information management system and message handling system AIDA-NG from Frequentis Comsoft enabled both the GuardianUTM and the ATM world to connect using safe and secure ATM technologies and standards, managing the area as one unified airspace.

The second scenario was the use of a UAV for runway threshold inspection, demonstrating its use for providing improved detail and, over time, a clearer picture of the wear and tear profile of the runway surface.

Frequentis UTM new business development head Jan Ziegler said: “Interoperability is key for the future success of ATM and UTM integration, and Altitude Angel is pioneering this concept through its GuardianUTM O/S. Frequentis is pleased to be part of such a powerful real-life demonstration, underlining how existing and proven ATM-grade solutions converge into a unified traffic management concept.”

What makes this demonstration all the more impressive was the fact that it took place in a fully operational airspace, side-by-side with regular traffic movements and not a segregated or closed airspace.

GuardianUTM O/S provided a real-time moving map of the airport and surrounding area giving air traffic controllers a detailed view of all approved and unapproved, via drone surveillance sensors, aerial activity.

The solution also allowed advance warnings to be sent to nearby automated drones or to the pilots in charge of them, allowing them to safely operate in close proximity or take action accordingly.

Altitude Angel founder and chief executive Richard Parker said: “Our ability to utilise existing ATM networks and systems, and blend those with the ultra-modern and emerging drone industry, coupled with our automated ‘air traffic control for drones’ technologies means that more of the skies can be opened up for commercial exploitation.”