SESAR members achieve first in aviation history

SESAR members have successfully conducted a live flight trial by an unmanned aircraft in controlled and unsegregated airspace, in what is being hailed as a major milestone in aviation history. The flight forms part of the SESAR demo, CLAIRE, a collaboration between Thales, NATS, the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory NLR, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and was jointly funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking.

The flight took place on 30 September, with a Thales Watchkeeper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) taking-off from West Wales Airport and embarking on a three hour flight into civil controlled airspace for the first time. There it was controlled by NATS air traffic controllers in exactly the same way as a traditional aircraft, despite the fact that the pilots were sat on the ground in a control room at the airport.

Until now, the use of large unmanned aircraft has been limited to specialist areas of segregated airspace where they are kept well away from civil air traffic. The aim of these flight trials and associated safety, regulatory and procedure design work, is to demonstrate the possible and safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into controlled airspace.

Florian Guillermet, Executive Director of the SESAR Joint Undertaking, said: “This is an important milestone for aviation and was made possible thanks to the pioneering and collaborative spirit of SESAR’s members and partners.”

Mark Watson, Head of Research and Development at NATS, said: “Safety is always our top priority so a huge amount of work has gone into getting to this point and much more will be needed, but it’s a major milestone for the industry and shows that the UK and Europe are leading the world when it comes to the development of RPAS and its integration into controlled airspace.”

Pierre Eric Pommellet, Thales Executive Vice-President, Defence Mission Systems, said: “Thales is proud to be involved in the Project CLAIRE flight demonstration and the challenge of safely integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems into controlled civilian airspace."

Find out more about SESAR and its work on RPAS integration:

See BBC coverage

Watch interview with Jem Dunn, NATS

Watch animation about SESAR’s R&D work on RPAS