Andalusia has made a firm commitment to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) with the future creation of the first facilities in Spain dedicated exclusively to research and experimentation with these types of aircraft: the ATlAS Experimental Flights Centre. This project, which involves an investment of 4.2 million euros and will be located in Jaén, will offer the international aeronautical community a unique setting for the development of technology applicable to these types of aircraft, which are considered to be of key importance in the field of security and defence. These are the credentials which our region presented at UNvEx, the most important national event dedicated to UAvs
In the coming months Andalusia will have the first facilities in Spain dedicated exclusively to experimentation with technology and aircraft systems for UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), the ATLAS Experimental Flights Centre.
The region’s aeronautical sector is convinced that the development of unmanned aircraft systems and UAVs is the way of the future for the international aeronautical industry. Accordingly, the Andalusian Regional Government and the Andalusian aeronautical cluster have made a firm commitment to the creation of a centre which will enable research and experimentation into new technologies which may be applied to unmanned aerial vehicles and aerial navigation.
This will provide Andalusia with the only centre of its nature in Spain and only the third in Europe, with similar facilities existing in the UK and Sweden. Above all, it will place the region at the vanguard of one of the most promising areas of the world aeronautical and aerospace industry. The ATLAS Experimental Flights Centre will offer the international aeronautical community an aerodrome equipped with top-class facilities and airspace ideal for the execution of flight tests with unmanned aircraft systems.
The main objective is to provide a singular setting for manufacturers and operators of UAVs, regulatory authorities, official bodies and universities and technological centres to carry out research and development of the technology applicable to these types of aircraft, which are considered to be of key importance to the aeronautical sector in the fields of security and defence.
The future facilities will involve an investment of 4.2 million euros, as was approved by the Governing Council of the Andalusian Regional Government late last January. This investment, co-financed under the FEDER Operational Programme for Andalusia 2007-2013, will be applied by way of a direct incentive for the Andalusian Foundation for Aerospace Development (FADA), the body promoting the project which is made up of the Andalusian Innovation and Development Agency (IDEA) and the main institutions and companies of aeronautic sector.
The ATLAS Centre will be located in the province of Jaén in the municipal district of Villacarrillo. This is a strategic point which has not been chosen at random, for the airspace in this zone has a climate and geography which is ideal for carrying out tests with unmanned aerial vehicles. In addition, it will have excellent communications with the rest of Andalusia and Spain via the Andalusian Dual Carriageway (A-4), and is little more than an hour away from the Córdoba-Madrid high-speed train (AVE) and the Granada-Jaén Airport and two hours from the airports of Seville, Malaga and Almería.
The new Experimental Centre will be built on a 15 hectare site in the Herrera zone of the municipal district of Villacarrillo. The facilities will include the construction of a main runway with a length of 800 metres and a width of 18 metres and an auxiliary grass runway measuring 400 x 50 metres, a control room to monitor missions, various independent hangars with space for offices and workshops, and other buildings dedicated to logistical-technical support for the aerodrome. Furthermore, ATLAS will have a reserved airspace in the centreeast of the province of Jaén with an approximate area of 35 x 30 kilometres and a maximum altitude of up to 5,000 ft. (approximately 1.6 kilometres). It is scheduled to be functioning by late 2010.
The main activities to be carried out at this experimental flight centre will consist of studies to improve the capacity of unmanned aerial vehicles and test their effectiveness in the air. These will include light and tactical UAS operations (of up to 650 kg MTOW), validation of aircraft navigation, guidance and control technology, new ATC/ATM techniques, testing and certification of UAS vehicles and certification of pilots, operators and mechanics in this field.
Presentation at UNVEX
The public unveiling of the new ATLAS Experimental Flights Centre took place early last March at UNVEX 2010, the national trade fair dedicated to unmanned aircraft systems and UAVs. It was presented by the Advanced Centre for Aerospace Technologies (CATEC), a body reporting to FADA responsible for the management and development of the new Andalusian facilities. CATEC had an informative stand in the exhibitor zone of this event to present the ATLAS Centre and explained the initiative to the main bodies, entities and firms participating at UNVEX.
The project aroused the interest of those attending the event and enabled Andalusian professionals to exchange information and discuss the latest developments in the area of unmanned aircraft systems with other Spanish experts. In this sense, the director-general of CATEC, Juan Pedro Vela, acted as moderator for the talk ‘Applications of Unmanned Aircraft Systems’, while the scientific director of the Centre, university lecturer Aníbal Ollero, gave a presentation on “Trends in Research and Development of Unmanned Aircraft Systems”.
The Andalusian participation at UNVEX was capped off with the speech by the manager of the Hélice Foundation, Manuel Cruz, at a round table discussion regarding aeronautical clusters and the future of the sector, during which he highlighted Andalusia's commitment to UAS and the importance of the ATLAS project.
This event, which this year is in its third edition, brought together the most important firms and professionals in the Spanish aeronautical and aerospace sector interested in research and development of UAVs, including EADS Defence & Security, Thales, BAE Systems, Isdefe, Indra, ITP, Sener, CESA and the Andalusian firm Elimco.
Unmanned aerial vehicles may be controlled via remote control and are capable of flying without human intervention, avoiding the risks associated with manned flights in hostile environments, flight conditions with limited visibility and adverse meteorological conditions.
Though commonly used for security and defence, unmanned aerial vehicles require intense research for civil and commercial use with full access to controlled airspace. Highlights among the latest applications in this field include management of natural disasters, forest fire fighting, inspection of facilities and buildings, collection of meteorological and environmental data, cinematography, preparation of digital maps for civil engineering and execution of flights in aggressive environments, with limited visibility or in adverse weather conditions. Andalusia already has an experimental Centre in the province of Huelva at El Arenosillo.
Reporting to INTA, this Centre also studies the applications of UAS but with an emphasis on defence and space. The new facilities in Jaén will develop Andalusian research experience in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles in the civil arena, drawing on the efforts made over various years by different public bodies and technological centres associated with the aeronautical sector and the academic world. Important among these are the research groups of the Higher Technical School of Engineering in Seville, which participate through AICIA in various national and international RDI projects focusing on components and systems for unmanned aerial vehicles.
CATEC also has among its main strategic lines the development of projects relating to UAS, an area in which it has been working intensely since its constitution with advisers and researchers such as the university lecturer Aníbal Ollero, one of the most renowned experts on unmanned aerial vehicles and systems in Spain.
Outlook for the future
This commitment to research and development in the field of UAS is one of the priority strategic lines for the Andalusian aeronautical sector in the coming years, as it is considered to be one of the areas with the greatest future potential within the world aeronautical and aerospace industry and with the greatest possibilities for technological development and growth.
As has already occurred in the field of composites and carbon fibre, in which Andalusia has established itself as a leader in the international aeronautical sector, the Andalusian government and the institutions, entities and firms which make up the aeronautical industry in our region are looking to position Andalusia at the forefront of the development of UAS, in order to take advantage of the boom of this emerging activity and place Spain and Andalusia ahead of other countries looking to compete in this area.
The ATLAS Experimental Flights Centre will undoubtedly bring about a major leap in terms of quality in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles and systems. It will also foster the development of new cutting-edge technology for the aeronautical industry, contributing to ensure the competitiveness of companies in the Andalusian aeronautical sector.
Awaiting the eADS UAS Centre of excellence
Andalusia may also be the site of the new UAS Centre of Excellence which the European aeronautical consortium EADS is considering whether to locate in Spain and which is also being contested by other regions such as Catalonia, Madrid and Galicia. This Centre is a project which dates back to the time of the integration of the Spanish firm CASA in EADS in 1999. During the merger process, the Spanish government secured a commitment that the aerospace consortium would install one of its centres in Spanish territory. The current government considers that locating the facilities for unmanned aerial vehicles in Spain would be an ideal manner of respecting this agreement. EADS has not yet detailed the conditions required for the UAS Centre of Excellence, nor has it resolved aspects such as the responsibilities of the Centre or the investment necessary. The Spanish regions which are candidates as the site for the Centre are hoping that the European firm will respect its commitment and locate the Centre on Spanish soil, although it may end up being based in France or Germany, the other countries which are working together with Spain on the Talarion UAS Project which was officially presented last year in Paris. With the start-up of the ATLAS Centre, Andalusia will make a decisive step as a leader in the field of research into unmanned aerial navigation systems and position itself at the head of the race to lead this field and secure the European aeronautical consortium’s future Centre of Excellence.