The formation of a new partnership could give the use of drones in the grocery industry a “flying start”, the UK’s leading air traffic services provider has claimed.

NATS has formed a strategic partnership with drone traffic management company Altitude Angel, which it said laid “the foundation for a future whereby drones and manned aircraft could safely co-exist”.

It said the agreement between the two organisations demonstrated a shift in industry understanding of the need for more collaboration between manned and unmanned air traffic management experts.

NATS acknowledged drones offered “huge potential benefits” for organisations from online retailers through to emergency services.

Reports of incidents, however, involving drones flying dangerously close to planes were on the increase.

The partnership between the two organisations would make the use of drones safer, NATS said.

“It is vital that the UK puts in place the right infrastructure to enable this country to be at the forefront of this exciting industry whilst protecting the safety of conventional aviation,” said NATS director of safety David Harrison.

“The increasing popularity of commercial drone operations and the growing number of drone-related incidents makes it essential that we take steps now to help make this happen and this new partnership will get the UK’s unmanned traffic industry off to a safe, flying start.”

Altitude Angel founder and chief executive Richard Parker said he believed that partnerships like this were the future for “driving innovation while safeguarding the skies”.

New drone standards will be unveiled this spring, designed to lead to strengthened confidence in safety, security and compliance.

Robert Garbett, chairman of the British Standards Institution Committee on Drone Standards, said the development and adoption of the first quality and safety standards for the drone industry would make 2018 a pivotal year for an industry, which was set to become a global phenomenon.

“It is the year when British and world standards will be crystallised, energising the industry, and enabling it to meet its full potential to the benefit of UK plc, and indeed economies worldwide.”

Joyce Lam, a trends analyst at Mintel, said more and more governments and brands were starting to consider drones for deliveries and other purposes.