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Testing times for new Malta UAS centre

Posted 27 April 2017 · Add Comment

With the burgeoning growth of the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) market comes an increased demand for flight-testing of new systems and operator training. David Oliver looks at a new player in the market.

Malta has launched an initiative that it hopes will see the island nation become a major aerospace centre of excellence.
The vision of Malta’s National Aerospace Centre (NAC) is to become a sustainable agency operating as a centre of aerospace research development and innovation (RDI) in technology areas of value to national industry and European competitiveness. This will be achieved through R&I excellence in science and technology.
The NAC was set up as a separate legal entity and is capable of entering into contracts, employing personnel and managing property for its operations. Furthermore, it will assist in the development of a national aerospace policy, represent the government on matters relating to the aerospace industry, and ensure necessary coordination in the implementation of aerospace policy.
The Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) has agreed to share its technical know-how and provide its support and capabilities to assist the NAC, which will aim to deliver high-quality, low-cost, and practical training courses in a geographic location that can be easily reached by European, African and the Middle Eastern customers.
The training facilities are centred at Xewkija, on the island of Gozo, in Malta.
Formally known as Gozo Heliport and used for scheduled helicopter flights from Malta International Airport until 2006, it has a 174 metre (571ft) 10/2 runway, two 22 metre wide aprons, a hangar and fire station.
The NAC facility is ideal for UAS flight-testing due to Malta’s operational environment, stakeholder community, logistics and communications. These assets include its geographical location in the centre of the Mediterranean, together with the favourable climate throughout the year.
The flight-test facility is available for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), universities, research institutions and UAS operators.
At Xewkija, NAC provides services and support for UAS flight-testing including hangarage, workshop and maintenance facilities, offices for flight-test instrumentation and post-flight data analysis, and UAS training courses.
Being close to the sea, the facility enables its clients to perform flight-testing over land and water. In addition, it allows for a very quick and easy transition between the launch site and for beyond visual line of site (BVLOS) operations at a variety of altitudes.
The NAC enables short and long flight tests, depending on client requirements.
It caters for small to medium-sized fixed-wing UAS, using the airstrip, and all ranges of rotary-wing UAS.
The facility allows visual line of sight (VLOS) flight-tests as well as BVLOS tests through NAC’s extensive segregated airspace in Maltese territorial waters, reaching a peak altitude at FL155, depending on the distance from the shore.
Such an extensive segregated airspace is ideal to test multiple UAS technologies and applications, such as sense-and-avoid technologies, maritime search and rescue applications, and integration of UAS with commercial aircraft.
NAC’s facility, coupled with NLR’s long-standing research in UAS operations involving integration into civil airspace, makes it the ideal location for testing.
The organisation aims to create a portfolio of training courses in aerospace-related topics. It will also provide theoretical and practical training for new UAS pilots in the form of courses accredited by the Maltese and Dutch Civil Aviation Authorities.
The NAC also offers individual technical assessments, consisting of a review of all UAS documentation, ground inspection, and flight inspection.
It offers manufacturers the possibility of utilising its facilities to demonstrate their products to their own clients, which may include fixed-wing or rotor-wing UAS types, or UAS systems and other related technologies. In addition, should a client procure a new UAS and would like to practice piloting it, NAC can provide that opportunity at Xewkija.
 

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