Wales Gets Dedicated UAV Airport, Leaves U.S. in the Dust

The U.K. has designated West Wales Airport plus 500 square miles as a UAV playground

2 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

Wales Gets Dedicated UAV Airport, Leaves U.S. in the Dust

Want to know a surefire way of creating jobs and spurring innovation in the aerial robotics market? It's easy: let people fly UAVs. This isn't something that's easily done here in the U.S. thanks to the FAA being, oh, about a decade (or two) behind the times, but over in Wales, they've already gone and given over an entire airport plus 1300 square kilometers [500 square miles] of airspace to UAV testing.

Conveniently located right off the B4333 between Blaenannerch and Aberporth (and a short distance from Brynhoffnant, Llangranog, Gwbert, and Mwnt), West Wales Airport has just been officially designated as a UAV testing area by the United Kingdom's Civilian Aviation Authority. This means that you can go out there and test your UAVs over a large area of unrestricted airspace, with civilian and military manned aircraft passing through from time to time that your robot should probably know how not to get run over by. Or vice versa, if you like to think big.

While the U.K. is taking a proactive approach to the whole UAV issue and encouraging small commercial companies to develop the technology, the FAA (which controls airspace here in the U.S.) is being a gigantic stick-in-the-mud by saying that they're, like, totally working on some rules or something, honest. Just be patient. For the next thirteen years. That's right, their target date for letting you fly an unmanned aircraft higher than 400 feet or out of visual range is apparently 2025. They hope.

I can understand why the FAA is cautious and wants to make sure that UAVs are operated reliably and safely in commercial airspace, but they can't just stick their heads in the sand for the next decade, or the rest of the world is simply going to keep making progress and small American companies who want to develop UAV technology are going to be forced to move to some unpronounceable town in Wales that's just to the northeast of Pantygrwndy.

For their part, the Welsh seem pretty excited about the prospect of UAVs being developed in their backyard: "we can do forestry, we can do whale-watching, we can do pipeline surveys or even peat bog monitoring," they say. Yes, that's right: Wales does apparently have whales. Fascinating.

Via [ Discovery News ]

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