The CAA's new Innovation Hub

The CAA has been established for nearly half a century and has undoubtedly seen a huge amount of changes in that time, from increased demand to changes in airspace use.  With the rise in drone technology and the possibilities opened up by developments in artificial intelligence, this pace of change looks to be increasing.

The next decade is likely to see radically different airspace usage. To this end, the CAA are meeting the challenge head on with the creation of their Innovation Hub.

This is a dedicated workspace designed to enable innovators to bring new aviation and travel products to market.  Working alongside specialist CAA staff and resources, product and service developers will be able to refine their ideas whilst gaining a stronger understanding of the regulatory framework, creating best practice and sharing resources.

The CAA’s main role will, of course, remain as regulator ensuring the protection of both consumer and the public but it is refreshing to see that this goal, and the goal of bringing the best in technology and innovation to the UK market are not mutually exclusive.

Three Services in the Hub

The hub is designed to offer three services

  1. Innovation Gateway – to allow innovators to engage with the CAA, submit ideas and get fast answers as to whether these would fit within the regulatory framework as it currently exists or if they would require further input and approval.

  2. Regulatory Sandbox – a safe space where ideas in development can be tested, particularly those that are outside of current permissions.

  3. Regulatory Lab – This is avital piece of the Innovation Hub aimed at reducing duplication between agencies such as other regulators, academia and the public. It is designed to a collaborative space where these parties can develop their key areas of interest to mutual benefit.

The Innovation Sandbox

The launch of the Innovation Sandbox at the end of May 2019 saw the announcement of the first six participants. These have been selected to share this development space and resources to explore and test new concepts with the overall goal being to keep the UK aviation sector at the leading edge of technology.

Altitude Angels.  Developers of solutions to allow the safe integration of UAVs into the existing airspace usage.  This company is particularly important to drone users as they have the potential to not only unlock safer airspace sharing but also permissions such as BVLOS through the introduction of a proven safety system.

Amazon.  This company needs no introduction.   They will be using the Sandbox to further their ambition to launch a drone delivery service to offer their customers a thirty minute delivery time.

NATS and Searidge Technologies. The air traffic control body and their digital tower partner hope to further their development of artificial intelligence and its potential role within air traffic control.

NBEC Consortium.  Proving that BVLOS is the key that unlocks much of the potential for automated flight, this is a collaboration between Cranfield University, Blue Bear Systems Technologies, Thales and Vodafone. They will be working together with the shared goal of establishing and experimentation corridor allowing drones and unmanned aircraft to fly by having their locations tracked and so safely share the airspace with manned craft.

Nesta Challenges.  A venture that brings together cities, technologists, researchers, regulators, public services and the public to help define the future of urban drone use.

Volocopter.  This is one of the most forward looking projects that aims to address transport and congestion issues in cities through the introduction of electrically powered air taxis.

CAA Director, Tim Johnsons, says

‘The UK is a global leader for aviation innovation, and we are excited to be playing our role to support this.  Public safety remains our number one priority, and our Innovation Sandbox will allow for the creation of world-first technologies tried and tested in a safe environment’.

From the list of the first six participants selected to take part in this high-profile project, it is clear that drones and artificial intelligence technology are seen as central to the transformation both of aviation strategy as well as to meeting future transportation challenges.

Establishing a tried and tested method by which manned and unmanned craft can safely share the airspace is key to both unlocking the potential of drones in many areas and also to gaining public trust and support.

Although some of the ideas being tested and discussed may be some time off being delivered, each step towards integration into them mainstream environment can only be a bonus to the UAV industry.  Promotion of the advantages that unmanned aerial vehicles have to offer and the creation of a recognised framework to integrate them more completely with the current system can help to leverage the benefits both commercially to their operators and in a wider sense, to the UK economy.

Here at DSR HQ, we will be watching developments with interest and taking any invitations that come our way to get involved and represent our members and the future of this exciting new industry.


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About the Author: DSR Journalist

Harrison Green

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