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12 Mar 2021

How Will Drone Corridors Revolutionise Industrial Estates?

In 2019 SEAT incorporated drones into its production line and reduced delivery time of its components from 90 minutes to just 15 minutes over a 2km distance.

Could the same time savings be achieved in the UK? If drone corridors can be established, then we will have tackled one of the biggest challenges to connecting production lines.

A drone corridor is a flight path assigned specifically for the safe operation of drones. Like flight paths a drone corridor is invisible, but it is a designated space with ceilings, sides and a floor within which drones can operate.

Arrow Drone Zone in Reading is seeking to establish the first UK drone corridor. Flight trials will be conducted along an 8km long corridor this summer and they hope to demonstrate how drones can operate safely in the same airspace as manned flights. It’s a big leap towards achieving cost efficiency in manufacturing and industrial processes but there are a number of obstacles.

If the trial is successful, it is thought that other drone corridors will be established. However, consideration will need to be given to the landowners over whose land the drone corridor is established.

Drones flown at low levels require permission from each landowners over whose land the drone flies. A daunting task in rural areas and almost impossible in a built-up area. It is envisaged that a third party organisation will broker deals with each of the landowners within a drone corridor to permit drone flights over their respective landholdings. It is assumed that the drone operator will pay a fee to the brokering third party organisation to use the relevant drone corridor.  There are organisations moving into this space and so hopefully it will not be too long before there is a workable solution.

Within the drone corridor, how can mid-air collisions with other drones and birds be prevented where a drone is being operated outside of the pilot’s line of sight? The “radar & surveillance” and “detect & avoid” technologies, which are usually fitted on drones, partly resolve this issue. Further advances are required in air traffic management and we suspect we will see solutions emerging from the Future Flight Challenge, Arrow Drone Zone and the Air Traffic Management & Unmanned Aircraft Bill.

Industrial estates are often found in less congested parts of the country, meaning that they are ripe for welcoming this new technology. This is because, generally, drones must be kept a set distance away from uninvolved people and are prevented from flying over congested areas, unless the operator has CAA authorisation. In addition, privacy and security issues remain a growing concern for society and public confidence is required on data capture and usage.

Assuming these issues (amongst others) are tackled, owners of industrial estates will need to make space for an area for their tenants to land, load and recharge drones. This may require adapting the future design of industrial estates. In addition, could the availability of drone connections make locations which were previously unattractive to manufacturers wanting quick access to road, rail and canal connections, more viable in the future?

This article first appeared in CoStar on 12 March 2021.