How do you operate crewed and uncrewed aircraft in some of the world’s most congested airspace, safely and efficiently? ‘This is the big question that a Consortium led by Operational Solutions Limited, in which Thales UK is a key player, is looking to answer at one of the world’s busiest international airports.’ HADO® (high-intensity autonomous drone operations) is an ambitious two-year project to deploy and operate a highly-automated 24/7 BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) drone operation at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR).

Thales’ involvement in this ground-breaking project will include supporting the development of automated technologies, skills, operating procedures, use cases, and safety-case approvals required to deploy the TopSky UAS Airspace Manager. In particular, to support Project HADO’s four-month 24/7 live BVLOS drone operations in the high-intensity environment of LHR. Use cases will demonstrate operational, economic, and societal benefits in areas such as infrastructure inspections, logistics support and security operations.

For Thales, the key challenge Project HADO aims to address is coordinating uncrewed traffic management (UTM) with well-established air traffic management (ATM) operations in a defined volume of airspace. Our contribution to the project will build on the successful UTM trials currently being conducted across several European airports, as well planning for state-wide operations in the US. 

Bringing it all together

As well as supporting the HADO consortium to define use cases, Thales will work with OSL to build a UTM interface with a command and control (C2) node able to bring together data from numerous sensors across Heathrow to create a single, composite situational awareness picture. It’s this rich data source that we’ll use to support traffic management.

The future of airport operations

Attractive use cases for drones across LHR’s 12 km2 estate and proximate airspace are numerous and diverse. Security monitoring, perimeter surveillance, small-scale logistics, airport maintenance, and drone traffic (including non-authorised flights) monitoring are all areas where drones could significantly enhance operations, while also reducing costs and environmental footprint. What’s more, part of the BVLOS UAS evaluation will include missions that move in and out of the Heathrow perimeter..

Another area of huge potential benefit is sustainability. Using drones instead of standard vehicles to carry out many routine airport activities could reduce the carbon footprint of airport operations and engineering teams, while supporting Thales’ own journey to carbon neutrality.

“If you can deploy drones in a safe and efficient manner, without adversely impacting existing airport operations, endless possibilities exist to monitor, manage, or measure all manner of important airport activities. We envisage that costs, time, and carbon savings will be demonstrably significant as use cases and operating concepts are refined in coordination with the authorities and other stakeholders at Heathrow. Project HADO will be a major first step to achieving all of these things.” Neil Watson, Market Development Manager (AMS), Thales in the UK

“Enabling autonomous beyond visual line of sight drone operations in intensely busy areas is key to unlocking drone-enabled economies and a future of smart airports and smart cities. We believe that HADO is a unique project with potential to unlock significant commercial opportunities in the UK.” Mark Legh-Smith, CEO, Operational Solutions Limited (OSL)

“There are lots of challenges that need to be overcome for us to safely integrate autonomous drones into our existing airspace. The information project HADO gathers during its ambitious four-month trial, in the challenging environment of Heathrow, will be vital in helping the industry understand how we can resolve issues before we scale up further.” Gary Cutts, Future Flight Challenge Director, UKRI

Taking UTM to new heights

HADO has two clear aims. First, to demonstrate that commercially beneficial Autonomous BVLOS operations are possible using uncrewed aerial systems (initially, in the under 25 kg category) in high-intensity, controlled airspace environments. And second, to inform and help shape future autonomous BVLOS regulations by providing evidence-based recommendations to Regulators about the technology and operating procedures needed to achieve safe and cost-effective BVLOS operations in mixed-traffic environments.

Ultimately, HADO aims to create a world-leading and world-first capability that will revolutionise the use of automated UAS in complex air traffic environments, and put the UK at the forefront of global thinking in this sector. And in doing so, create a model for commercial autonomous UAS operations that can be quickly scaled and rolled-out across hundreds of sites in the UK and globally.