Commercial drone sky highway 'could open this year'

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Drone flight corridor managementImage source, Altitude Angel
Image caption,
Technology would prevent drones from coming into conflict with other aircraft, the developer said

A commercial drone corridor could open in the south of England within months, its developer has said.

The five mile-long flight path, south of Reading, Berkshire, aims to allow drones to be operated safely out of the pilot's sight.

Developer Altitude Angel said it would hire out the zone to drone operators.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said the application was one of a number of "great potential changes" involving the deployment of drones in UK airspace.

Altitude Angel said it had created a "detect and avoid" system that would prevent drones from coming into conflict with other aircraft.

The Reading-based firm said the zone might be hired by NHS trusts to deliver organs for transplant and medical supplies or by local authorities to inspect public buildings.

It said it planned to license the technology for use in other areas.

Spokesman Stephen Farmer said: "We want to set up highways in the sky around the UK, in the same way the rail network was built."

Image source, Solent Transport
Image caption,
Unmanned aerial vehicles have started to deliver hospital supplies to the Isle of Wight

The CAA said Altitude Angel was one of a number of firms hoping to advance the safe commercial use of drones.

Assistant director Jonathan Nicholson said: "Nobody has yet cracked how to put drones in uncontrolled airspace where you have everything from a hang-glider to a fast jet, a large proportion of which are not talking to air traffic controllers or sending out electronic signals."

He said a decision on the test corridor, known as Project Arrow, would be made "fairly quickly".

Retail giant Amazon made its first commercial drone delivery in the UK in 2016 and has established a drone research centre in Cambridge.

In April 2020, the UK government announced much larger unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) would deliver essential hospital supplies from the mainland to the Isle of Wight.