For Operation Zenith to be deemed a success, it was essential that Manchester's skies remained absolutely safe throughout the drone demonstrations.
We staged Operation Zenith to show how, given the right regulatory environment, drones – or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – can be flown safely alongside manned aircraft in controlled airspace.
Our aim was to showcase existing procedures and technologies that, under the right strictly-controlled circumstances, are capable of enabling the growth of the commercial drone industry, a fledgling industry that has a great deal to offer UK plc.
Conservative estimates put its future commercial benefits at billions of pounds in the UK alone, while the contribution drones could make to society, through their many applications across the National Health Service and the emergency services for example, is virtually incalculable.
The on-airfield delivery scenario featured an on-airfield drone flight that crossed active traffic paths to deliver equipment having gained electronic flight approval from air traffic control (ATC).
This scenario was designed to demonstrate the safe use of unmanned air vehicles to deliver parts or equipment without causing disruption in a busy, complex and dynamic airfield environment.
Operation Zenith demonstrated the end-to-end process, including defining workflows for pre-approved operations, on-demand initiation, ATC approval and providing situational awareness.
Runway threshold inspection
This scenario featured a drone operator carrying out a remote inspection of the airfield runway threshold.
Linear infrastructure inspection – beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)
The linear infrastructure inspection (BVLOS) scenario featured a drone flight to carry out a railway track inspection under BVLOS conditions within the Manchester Airport controlled zone (CTR).
This scenario showcased a successful, safe drone flight following an effective flight planning and approval process designed to demonstrate ATC situational awareness, and de-confliction with other aircraft.
Atmospheric survey – within visual line of sight (VLOS)
In this scenario it was vital that the crew had visibility of any factor that may affect or impede the flight. Such dynamic and fluid conditions need to be communicated to the drone pilot in sufficient time to mitigate any potential risks caused if the drone remains.
Through a series of events we showed how GuardianUTM O/S and ATC procedures can forewarn an operator of a developing situation and suggest risk mitigations.
Commercial VLOS Operation
The commercial user within VLOS scenario featured a commercial user flying a drone under VLOS conditions within Manchester Airport’s controlled zone (CTR). This scenario aimed to show how a user is able to use an app like Drone Assist to check air and ground hazards and use its ‘fly now’ function to allow other airspace users and an airport of their activities.
Site survey – within VLOS
The site survey within VLOS scenario featured an FRZ-approved drone flight undertake a site survey under VLOS conditions within Manchester Airport’s flight restricted zone (FRZ).
The safeguarding scenario featured the detection of unauthorised drones as they entered a pre-identified section of airspace to test Operation Zenith’s safeguarding solution.
This scenario was designed to demonstrate how a safeguarding solution can be effectively integrated into a common platform to ATC and other organisations to enhance the visibility of potential hazards whilst not restricting approved flights.
Operation Zenith was designed to demonstrate the value of providing a complete, composite view of the airspace using a range of ATM and UTM sensory sources including radar, safeguarding, hook-on electronic conspicuity, and ground control station/autopilot connectivity.
This scenario was designed to demonstrate that an airspace management tooling platform can successfully invoke an airspace restriction in a defined area and automatically disseminate actions to all active and affected unmanned traffic.