An innovative traffic control system for low altitude aircrafts has been successfully trialled and completed in Geelong, helping to pave the way for safer and more efficient management of drones across Australia.

The system was trialled as a partnership between Telstra, global aerospace company Thales, drone specialists AUAV (Australian Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and the City of Greater Geelong.

The Geelong Low Altitude Airspace Management (GLAAM) Initiative demonstrated that drones can be operated safely in a semi-urban environment.

It also established how drones can be used effectively in the development of Smart City concepts in Australia.

The system allowed drone flights that met certain criteria to gain automatic approval to fly in low altitude airspace (below 400 feet).

To be approved for flight, applicants are required to share information such as the proposed drone flight path, the details of the pilot and the reason for the flight.

The current process for approving drone flights is slow and complex, which is slowing the progress of drone usage in various services and industries.

Using drones could potentially improve city services in a number of areas, including:

  • Coastline mapping – high-quality images could help monitor coastal changes and erosion
  • Tree inspections – the city is already using drones for aerial tree inspections and to capture before and after imagery of tree plantings
  • Building and roof maintenance – Geelong’s buildings could be inspected and maintained without the need for working at heights. Recently the city used drones for the annual inspection of the Geelong Library roof
  • 3D data collection – high-quality photographic surveys could capture the growing and changing region for the benefit of planners, surveyors and architects

Drones are also being used to achieve previously impossible tasks including during emergencies. For example, drones can be deployed to gain an aerial view of bushfire affected regions within minutes and post-disaster can be used to locate injured wildlife.

The GLAAM Initiative was able to provide access to clear information in near-real-time about who is flying where and for what reasons. This enables authorities to notify drone pilots if they’re required to change their flight path or land to clear airspace in emergencies.

The system would also help prevent potential privacy violations and improve community safety by requiring pre-approvals for all flights.

All drone pilots must adhere to the rules established by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

The City of Greater Geelong was chosen as the trial location due to the region’s varying geography, as well as the City’s strong position as a clever and creative organisation with a dedicated Smart Cities team.

Findings from the GLAAM Initiative will be used to guide the development of a traffic control system for drone flights across Australia. The trial has also helped to demonstrate the possibilities for more advanced use of drones across many sectors.

Geelong Mayor, Stephanie Asher, said the City was committed to supporting innovation as a way to attract new industries.

“Building the technology industry in our region will greatly benefit the community by increasing job opportunities, and creating a more resilient and diversified economy,” Ms Asher said.

“Drone technology can also help us do things faster, smarter and safer for our community.”

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