Project Skyway – Lifting the Veil on Falsehoods & Fallacy

Apr 22 2024

Posted by Altitude Angel Insight

news main image Mast in background with drone in foreground

At the beginning of March 2024, Project Skyway was the focus of a piece in the MailOnline. Whilst largely positive, one of the contributors to the article voiced their concerns about drone flights and operations – specifically around noise, crashes, and privacy.

These are common concerns and ones we address whenever we’re doing any public engagement around Project Skyway. But are these concerns well-founded?

By way of response, Stephen Farmer, our Head of Communications, wrote the attached blog post which was first posted on LinkedIn and we have recreated here.  In it, he addresses in turn and in his own way, each of the above concerns. As he says in the piece, his intention was to provide clarity around some of the fallacies, address genuine concerns, and correct the misconceptions about Project Skyway and the drone flights which will take place within the ‘drone superhighway' to an audience which are not familiar with this new and emerging technology.

If you didn’t see the MailOnline piece you can still read it here.

As the most ambitious project in UK aviation today,
Project Skyway is showing the world how Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, often referred to as drones) will operate in airspace in the very near future.  And as a high-profile project, Skyway has been the focus of TV reports, radio phone ins, as well as press and online news articles.

However, as the project enters its final stages and routine drone delivery edges closer, those opposed to change or who don’t fully understand the technology involved, begin to find their voices, “I don’t want drones filming my back garden!!” and the like. The result of which often means misconceptions are put out as fact and genuine concerns become bundled in with untruths and falsehoods.

It is my intention to provide clarity around some of the fallacies, address genuine concerns, and correct the misconceptions about Project Skyway and the drone flights which will take place within the ‘drone superhighway.’

Critics of the drone superhighways are usually concerned with three issues: crashes, noise, and privacy. So, I will address each of those issues in turn.

But before I do, it’s worth giving a broad outline of what Project Skyway is and the problem it is solving.

Project Skyway is part of the government-funded Innovate UK’s Future Flight Phase Challenge programme. It is not 100% government-funded: the private organisations involved also have to contribute towards the cost, from 20% up to 50%.

The project’s objective was to establish 165 miles of ‘drone superhighways’ (which, it should be noted, are five miles wide) connecting the airspace above towns and cities between Reading and Coventry.  Through the project, Altitude Angel has been able to showcase the capabilities of its ARROW technology which will enable drones to be flown along ‘superhighways’ beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the pilot. ARROW towers (and the technology behind them) act as ‘airspace observers’, allowing safe and secure flight along the superhighway.

So what are the misconceptions we hear most about…

NOISE – “Drones are a nuisance…”

Drones, like every other mode of transportation, generate noise.  FACT. But how loud the noise generated is dependent on a number of things.

Drones are at their ‘loudest’ during the take-off and landing phase (or hovering in the case of photography), for two reasons.  One – the drone requires more power and is working harder at this time, and is therefore louder.  And secondly – we’re closer to it.  This second point, although obvious, is crucial and often overlooked, especially where the drone superhighway is concerned.

The drone superhighway will enable drone deliveries.  So, drones will be taking off and landing at specific sites, away from urban areas.  Once airborne, at a cruising height of 400ft, a fixed wing drone travelling at 50mph is virtually silent.  The reality is you won’t hear them flying overhead. In fact, you’re more likely to be disturbed by the road noise than you are that drone.

In addition, remember, the Skyway superhighway is five miles wide. Flight paths, should drones be flying routinely between two sites, can be managed in such a way that no two drones will fly over the same house (at 400ft!) on any one day.  So, not only will residents NOT hear the drone, there is a very slim chance of them even seeing one.

Which brings me nicely on to…

PRIVACY – “I don’t want drones with cameras flying over my back garden…”

As with noise, this is a legitimate concern.  But it doesn’t stand up to any form of scrutiny, and I don’t mean this in any disrespectful way.

So, what do I mean by that?  Well, as we’ve said before, the superhighway and the technology behind it is about enabling commercial BVLOS flights.  It’s about drones delivering medical samples, high-value low-volume goods, packages to remote areas. The operators flying within the superhighway will have no interest in surveillance of your house or any other private property – their focus is flying from A to B. Unless, of course, they’re conducting a legitimate survey of land or ground-based infrastructure such as a railway line or motorway.  But in any case, it can be said that the use of cameras on drones is highly regulated and our customers on Skyway are principally using them for safety, monitoring of their own flights and for navigation.

It’s also very important to note that virtually the entirety of planet Earth is imaged routinely multiple times daily by hundreds of surveillance satellites, many of which are operated by private companies. These satellites most definitely can see what’s happening in your garden.

There’s also the other fact which gets forgotten: anyone in a plane, or helicopter, is also able to carry a camera. Look out the window of your next flight into London Heathrow and you’ll see a plane full of window-seat passengers taking photos in the seconds before landing.

And finally…

CRASHES – “What if a drone crash lands on a school, think of the children…??”

Again, the thought of drone crashing to the ground is a legitimate issue, but one which can be – and is - managed.  Firstly, it’s important to note aviation is one, if not the, safest form of transportation because safety is front and centre in every aspect.

As sure as night becomes day, I will say now, a crash will happen. It is inevitable.  However, drone manufacturers, like software and platform developers, spend an incredible amount of time, money and effort in understanding and managing failure, so we ‘fail safely’, in other words planning for various types of failure and how to minimise risk to those on the ground as well as other airspace users.

All the airframes (drones) operating on the Skyway will be operating with CAA approval – there will be no ‘home-made’ drones operating on the superhighway. If a drone fails, like any other aircraft, protocols kick in and the operator will look to land the aircraft, or the drone will be given instruction to land, in a pre-determined area where landing a stricken airframe can be done safely or damage minimised.

Detect and Avoid (DAA) currently deployed throughout all aviation is the human eyeball. The ARROW platform has proved to be far more effective in spotting other aircraft, both uncrewed and crewed, than a human eyeball. And it won’t get tired or lose concentration. It will always be on 100%.

The drones operating on the superhighway will often be flying below crewed aviation (400ft as opposed to 1000ft).  However, crewed aviation may have need to traverse this airspace – Emergency Services helicopters, military etc.  The ARROW platform can see all air traffic at this height, irrespective of whether it is electronically conspicuous or not, and issue guidance to the drone operator to avoid these aircraft – for example ‘return to base’ or ‘re-route.’

It's also worth remembering those operating the drones want to keep them in the air – they’re expensive to replace…!  So operators do all they need to in order to keep their drones flying safely and securely.  It’s not in their interests to see a failure.

In summary

Altitude Angel, through Project Skyway and the development of its ARROW technology, wants to make the world a better place through the introduction of drones into the skies above Britain and beyond. But we’re not different to anyone else.  We still value our own privacy, we want to live in quiet, safe, neighbourhoods, and we don’t want the tranquility of our homes to be disturbed by unnecessary disruption and noise.

Drones are a tool.  If they’re cheaper, more efficient, less polluting, quieter, and safer than existing modes of transport then why would we not encourage their use, in a safe, managed, and considerate way?

People will always have concerns, some rightly, others unfounded. But don’t fear what you don’t know, seek the truth and you could be pleasantly surprised.

Listen to audio recording of the article:


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