A day in the life of: Flying in Southend Airport’s RPZ

A standard part of any drone pilot’s day is to clarify the airspace you’re working in and the severity and impact that an unmanned aircraft’s presence has there and co-ordinate accordingly. Often, it might not even be much of an issue, operating safely well outside of any airfield or heliport activity.

However, as part of our ongoing work with Network Rail, last week we were brought into close contact with Southend Airport airspace that required accurate organisation, co-operation and planning right from the outset.

Two RUAS vans at London Southend Airport's RPZ.

Using the DJI Matrice 300 RTK, we have undergone miles upon miles of track survey safely, often encroaching on an airfield’s FRZ (Flight Restricted Zone) where communication with Air Traffic Control as to our presence.

But this time was different.

Not only were we to passing through the FRZ of London’s Southend Airport, but we were to fly directly though the Runway Protection Zone, or RPZ, directly placing our aircraft in the same flightpaths as planes and helicopters.

A top down shot of the Southend runway RPZ, taken by a drone.

Immediately in the planning stages, as with every job, this was quickly identified and the necessary paperwork and co-ordination needed to be submitted and approved so that our team would be available to position themselves on the agreed upon date.

So with our trusty Matrice 300 ready and able, our team headed to Southend Airport and set up their take-off and landing spots, all under the watchful eye of the Air Traffic Control tower. Having arrived early on a Friday morning seemed to do the trick, as the team were afforded a decent window to fly, following along the track with direct communication with Air Traffic Control where the pilot was expected to land the aircraft rapidly at a moment’s notice.

Even with an acknowledged window, the team maintained close proximity to the aircraft, constantly changing location to ensure clear line of sight, swift response time, and adaptable landing locations, especially when the window was suddenly cut short by an unscheduled aircraft landing.

Fortunately, thanks to the reliability of the aircraft and the team’s co-operation with Southend’s Air Traffic Control team, the operation was conducted and completed successfully, to a high standard that benefitted our client and set an important precedent in our future endeavours with working alongside the UK’s more congested airspaces.

Liarne Fox

February 01

An airborne drone during a GVC transition training course.

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