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Using blockchain to maximise the use of UK airspace, cut costs in the aviation industry and allow more drones to take to our skies.

Digital Catapult is leading on product management, advising on service design, and supplying invaluable digital ledger technology (DLT) knowledge for the 15-month Fly2Plan project, led by Heathrow.

The efficient flow of data in the aviation industry, as well as effective use of UK airspace, are both vital for creating the trade opportunities needed to make Global Britain a reality and deliver on the government’s ambitions to build back better from the pandemic.

Autonomous drones, for example, could provide us with an opportunity to level up every corner of the country by connecting more of the UK’s regions to global growth. However, at the moment, the systems used by the aviation industry to exchange data are outdated, and designed for human-controlled commercial aircraft – and not drones.

A new system is required if we are to make the best use of UK airspace, ensuring our skies can be shared safely and efficiently by autonomous drones and airplanes with pilots.

For airports, using distributed systems technologies, such as blockchain, can:

  • allow more meaningful cross-organisational sharing of data, without compromising security of the data
  • improve communications between aircraft, drones, air traffic controllers, border control and baggage handlers to name but a few – boosting productivity and efficiencies
  • identify new opportunities for cost savings in the aviation industry – including more efficient operation of ground services, an increased utilisation of aircraft, increased punctuality and the use of drones for delivery, transport and maintenance

The Fly2Plan project will look to create a decentralised, resilient and efficient operating model to replace ageing platforms and protocols and support cross-company collaboration in the aviation industry through effortless sharing of data. As part of this, it will aim to establish the core, underlying DLT based resilient, and distributed database to store crucial flight data providing a consistent and secure single point of truth for the entire aviation industry to benefit from.

The potential of the technology will be unleashed when it becomes an open-source air traffic platform providing the foundation for drones, private and commercial aircraft and even space vehicles to safely share the skies in the years to come.

Digital Catapult is providing technical oversight of the first phase of the project – defining the project roadmap based on use cases developed with key stakeholders. This phase is set to take place until early 2022.

The next phase will see live demonstrations of the concepts in action with the long-term aim of wider adoption across the aviation industry.

The Fly2Plan project has been accepted into Innovate UK’s Future Flight Challenge. Funded through £125 million of government grants, the Challenge aims to safeguard the UK’s advantage in aerospace research and development and create economic opportunities from new forms of air mobility.

What were the benefits?

Fly2Plan paves the way for a future where we can maximise the use of drones in UK airspace, alongside commercial aircraft. In doing so, we could see our skies occupied drones responding to challenges in society – such as drones to provide emergency response, deliver medical supplies, survey our critical infrastructure and even taxi passengers from A to B.

As Fly2Plan will result in the more meaningful sharing of data in the aviation industry, it also has the potential to unlock opportunities for new entrants, cut costs and improve industry safety.