As the World ATM Congress looms large on the horizon, we asked our CEO, Martin Rolfe, to share his views on the big topics sure to be on the lips of the Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) community in Madrid next week.

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Navigation at sea is very different to aviation – with the exception of a few very busy traffic management schemes such as those in the English Channel, ships are largely left to depend upon the training of the captain and self-separation. But on the issue of drones, there is absolute agreement – they are already here and are able to deliver substantial benefit to UK plc.

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NATS has played a major role in the SESAR R&D programme since 2009 working with colleagues from across Europe. We are now embarking on the next wave of collaborative R&D through SESAR 2020.

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We’ve talked before about the opportunities and challenges that the growth in drone use presents. A new report released this week by SESAR and endorsed by the European Commission attempts to quantify the benefits and suggests the drone market place could generate in excess of EUR 10 billion value annually, in nominal terms, by 2035 and over EUR 15 billion annually by 2050.

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Drone technology is here to stay. There’s no point denying it. But there’s also no point denying the new flight safety challenges this new technology has brought about.

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The use of unmanned technology is not entirely new however the availability and affordability have improved significantly. This is beginning to revolutionise aspects of industry previously limited in its use of aerial services due to the high costs involved with running fixed wing and rotary aircraft.

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Education is key to the safe integration of drones in civil airspace, according to the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s Assistant Director of Communications.

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We need a balanced, cross-border approach to regulating the growing drone industry, argues the author of the European Parliament’s report on the safe use of drones in civil airspace.

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The UK should be leading on drone safety and how to integrate new technologies not just looking for ways to swat drones and UAVs from the skies. Compared with a nation like the US, the UK is better placed to establish itself as a model with its single aviation authority and standard set of rules for one area of jurisdiction.

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A week of drones

The Royal Aeronautical Society’s conference on Unmanned Aircraft Systems will discuss what is undoubtedly one of the biggest but most exciting opportunities and challenges facing the aviation and air traffic management industry today, drones and their safe integration.

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