Snowdonia Aerospace Future Flight Challenge

Snowdonia Aerospace is pleased to announce that we have received a grant award from UK Research & Innovation for an 18-month drone development programme in partnership with Swiftflight Avionics as part of the UK Future Flight Challenge, a £33.5m element of the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The primary objective of our Project “Gold Dragon” is to accelerate the development and testing of an active detect-and-avoid solution for light drones, typically less than 150kg take-off weight, enabling their safe and full integration into the UK aviation system. Our aim is to achieve approval for regular and routine beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations in non-segregated airspace by the end of the project so we can start to deliver commercial drone services in Wales and beyond.

We have already built a successful relationship with the Welsh Ambulance Service via our recent proof-of-concept demonstration for delivery of a mini-defibrillator by drone to a remote rural location and will continue to prioritise health services in remote and rural communities as part of this project along with the wider NHS Wales network.

The UK survival rate for an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) is only 8.6%. Resuscitation Council guidelines recognise that survival rates of 50 to 70% could be achieved with defibrillation within 3 to 5 minutes of OHCA, but each minute of delay reduces the probability of survival by 10%, and in the UK fewer than 2% of victims have a defibrillator deployed before the ambulance arrives. The situation is most acute in remote and rural locations.

Flight testing in the unique operational environment provided at Snowdonia Aerospace Centre will also allow us to involve other potential emergency response stakeholders such as the Police, Fire, Coastguard, and Mountain Rescue, and we have already begun engagements to capture their key requirements.

Lee Paul, CEO of Snowdonia Aerospace said:

“We are delighted to be awarded funding through the Future Flight Challenge programme. The grant will enable us to continue the development of our proposed drone service provision in support of the NHS and other emergency services initially across Wales. Our earlier work demonstrated the advantages of using drones to support remote and rural areas with the drone covering 4.5km in under 3 minutes compared to an equivalent road journey of 20 minutes. The time saving being critical in cases where early defibrillation is required.

As the UKs leading aerospace R&D test centre, the airfields environment, facilities and infrastructure will also support a range of other companies looking to develop their own Future Flight programmes in a safe operating environment and we look forward to working with them also.”

Dr. Phil Geoghegan, MD of Swiftflight Avionics said:
“This project is an exciting application of UAV active sensor technology, with the aim of routine point-to-point BVLOS UAV flight. We see this as a game-changer for UAV operation. We are delighted to be working with the test and evaluation specialists at Snowdonia Aerospace Centre and the Welsh Ambulance Service.”

Councillor Gareth Thomas, Cabinet Member for Economy and Community, Gwynedd Council, said:

“We are delighted to see that the drone technology trialled earlier in the year from Llanbedr to transport medical defibrillators to remote communities will now be further tested for other responses by the emergency services. We also look forward to linking this work to the STEM Gogledd programme, which supports and promotes STEM education across north-west Wales”

Dr. Nigel Rees, Head of Research and Innovation for the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust, said:

“The Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust is looking forward to continuing this exciting
development which has the potential to improve the care we provide and save lives.”

John Whalley, CEO of Aerospace Wales, said:

“Aerospace Wales is working closely with Welsh Government on the strategy for Future Flight in Wales and we are delighted that Aerospace Wales member, Snowdonia Aerospace, has been successful in its bid to the UK’s Future Flight Challenge phase 2 competition. The “Golden Dragon” project, in partnership with Swiftflight Avionics, builds on the highly successful BVLOS emergency medical response drone trial carried out earlier this year. This continuing development places Snowdonia’s airfield at Llanbedr right at the heart of BVLOS development in the UK.”