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The world’s first airport for unmanned aircraft is opening in rural Wales and officials say it could be the first step to getting human and robot -piloted craft together in the same airspace. The United Kingdom’s Civilian Aviation Authority has just granted permission for both the West Wales Airport in Aberporth and a 500-square mile airspace to be dedicated to unmanned aircraft. General aviation pilots can still fly through the region, as well as Royal Air Force pilots who conduct training missions nearby.
The Welsh government hopes the drone airport and airspace will draw commercial firms who are currently banned from testing their aircraft in the United States except in restricted military airspace. “We can use the airspace to start proving the integration and manned and unmanned systems,” said Carl Davies, project manager at the West Wales UAV Centre and Qinetiq, a UK-based defense contractor.
The 4,100-foot runway will be used to run test flights of the British Army’s new Watchkeeper WK450, which is being built by an Israeli firm to conduct reconnaissance, surveillance, weather and other targeting missions. Until now, the drone has been flying over the Irish Sea. The new airspace extends 40 miles inland and extends over several rural Welsh communities with a population of about 10,000 people.