MoD claims new airspace for Watchkeeper training

Plans to extend airspace in the south of England used for testing of unmanned aerial vehicles will have a minimal effect on the aviation community, the UK Ministry of Defence has claimed.

The MoD said it has been forced to increase the area used for trials over Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire by the increasing sophistication of vehicles such as the Watchkeeper tactical UAV.

The proposed new area of operation to the south, bounded by Warminster, Andover, Stockbridge and Shaftesbury, would only be activated when required for training and would include additional airspace to provide separation from civil air traffic.

With the ability to operate at higher altitudes and further away from their target a key feature of the latest UAVs, the plans would let operators carry out ̵6;look down̵7; surveys of the training area from up to 15 miles away. Imagery produced will only be employed for operational training purposes and will be subject to the 1998 Data Protection Act, the MoD emphasised.

A three month public consultation ends in late September. Subject to any subsequent changes, and with regulatory approval from the Civil Aviation Authority, implementation is planned by the end of 2009.

According to Commander Dennis Ryan from the MoD project team, Watchkeeper is likely to be the first UAV to utilise the proposed airspace for operator training following flight trials at the Aberporth range in Wales.

Flying at altitudes between 8,000 to 16,000 feet, it will be difficult for a ground observer to see or hear the UAV, he claimed. ̶0;The proposed new airspace may affect a small proportion of the aviation community that currently uses this airspace, but procedures will be put in place to ensure any disruption is kept to an absolute minimum."

Image: The Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle

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