Airservices Australia last week made civil aviation history when for the first time its air traffic controllers safely guided a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) remotely-operated aircraft, commonly referred to as a ‘drone’, through civilian airspace ahead of next week’s Exercise Talisman Sabre.
The Heron Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) took off from Rockhampton Airport on 24 June after air traffic controllers in the control tower gave the aircraft taxi instructions and a take-off clearance from the airport’s Runway 15.
Shortly after its departure, the air traffic control of the Heron was safely transferred over to en route controllers located at Brisbane Airport for onwards clearances into the Shoalwater Bay military restricted airspace for the exercise.
“Controlling the Heron in our airspace is a clear demonstration of the importance of harmonising the diverse airspace and capability needs of Air Force while maintaining the safety and efficiency of civilian operations,” said Airservices Executive General Manager, Air Traffic Control, Greg Hood.
“We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with Defence on the use of this type of technology safely in Australian airspace, particularly as we work with Defence to roll out a new, jointly procured and operated air traffic management system.”
Planning for the Heron’s operations in civilian airspace began in 2013 and included close collaboration with Defence and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
Airservices signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Air Force on 29 May during a ceremony in Canberra which provided the authority for the Heron to be managed by civilian air traffic controllers.
Airservices will continue to provide air traffic services for the Heron’s operations throughout Exercise Talisman Sabre which runs until mid-July.
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