Drone Port Could Put Angus at Forefront of SectorNeil Hardie
The increasing use of drones around the world is seen as a massive opportunity to get involved in this promising sector, with many hundreds of billions of pounds expected to be invested globally in the years ahead.
And the county of Angus wants to be among the locations which will benefit from this huge opportunity.
Drones have been used by the military for many years. But the consumer and commercial drone market has been rapidly evolving over the past decade as technology has become cheaper and increasingly capable.
Richard Stark, Tony Webb, and Mike McSwayde came together a couple of years ago to exploit the opportunities associated with Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone operations.
The trio are directors of north-east drone company DTLX.
Richard said: “Drones are now widely used in many industries such as surveying and inspection – both onshore and offshore.
“However, drone operations are today constrained by the regulations which limit flights to within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) of the pilot out to a maximum of 500 metres.
“The next evolution in drone technology will be adaption of the BVLOS where drones operate out of sight of the pilot.
“This will enable drone deliveries, long-range infrastructure inspection and survey – and even things like flying cars.
“But this requires regulatory change and wider public acceptance of the technology.”
The Mercury Drone Ports Programme was the brainchild of DTLX who, in partnership with Angus Council, are progressing with plans to make the county the Scottish hub for the fast-evolving market.
Drone Port Montrose will b e Scotland’s first drone port and it is proposed that several others will follow across Angus over the next few years.
Richard said the foundation of the Mercury Drone Ports Programme will be to create a world-class regional scale airspace trials area across the whole of Angus and also extending offshore.
The aim is to attract drone technology companies to the county to trial their systems, and commercial or drone users to develop their operational procedures with the lure of early commercial contracts to create an initial drone-services marketplace.
Ultimately, larger-scale manufacturers are expected to be attracted to the area along with companies specialising in associated technology such as artificial intelligence, data management and software development. A centre of excellence is also proposed.
Richard added: “As an early adaptor within an immature but rapidly-evolving industry, the Mercury Drone Ports Programme will play an important role in the development of the wider regulatory environment surrounding the use of autonomous drones, the use of low-level airspace and how stakeholder expectation can be managed in areas such as noise, safety and public privacy.
“The Mercury Drone Ports Programme has been allocated £1 million of funding from Angus Council’s Economic Development Fund – The Mercury Programme – subject to approval of DTLX’s business case.”
As regards the main achievements of the drone ports programme to date, Richard said: “We have completed a good number of stakeholder engagements and conducted a county-wide planning exercise for the first phase of the project – a BVLOS drone demonstration due to commence early in 2022.
“The airspace application will be lodged with the regulatory authorities shortly.
“Over the next few months, we also aim to hold public seminars where we can continue to spread the word about what is going on.
“Then, in the first quarter of next year, there will be three months of BVLOS demonstration flights flying for healthcare companies, logistic companies and offshore energy companies as well as demonstrating to the council and emergency services the capabilities of drones and BVLOS flight.”
Richard said the DTLX team has also established a drone operator company – Drone Technologies – to exploit the opportunities available as the UK strategic partner for EHang, a world leader in flying cars and drone light shows.
“Over the next 45 years, we hope to certify the EHang 216 autonomous aerial vehicle and become Scotland’s first air taxi operator. We are also in the process of becoming a licenced drone light show operator.
“We are planning to showcase DTLX’s drone light shows in Angus later this year and then offer them as a safer, greener alternative to traditional fireworks displays for corporate and public events across Scotland and the UK. It is all exciting stuff.”
Richard said he hoped DTLX’s work will put his firm and Angus at the forefront of the UK’s drone industry.
“At one end of the spectrum, we hope to be able to work full time in the industry – flying drones and supporting Angus businesses realise the benefits of drone technology.
At the other end of the scale, we may be building drone ports and operating thousands of drone taxis in cities around the world.
“The industry is young and developing at pace. It is a sector that will ultimately be worth hundreds of billions of dollars – if our company and Angus can get an early foothold, we have a chance of being swept along with it.”