World first drone testing planned

drone Simultaneous drone flights over Antwerp city centre and port, are due to take place in a world first. Image: Port of Antwerp

Drone flights will be carried out at a port in Europe for the first time to assess the technology’s role in developing digital systems.

A consortium of partners including the Port of Antwerp has already carried out simultaneous drone flights for tasks including package deliveries, inspection flights and emergency situations. Following completion of the trial round at the DronePort in Sint-Truiden, SAFIR (Safe and Flexible Integration of Initial U-space Services in a Real Environment) partners will test simultaneous drone flights over Antwerp city centre and port, in a world first.

"Drones are a key element in the development of a digital nervous system through the port of Antwerp,” said Erwin Verstraelen, chief digital information & innovation officer at the Port of Antwerp.

“A live feed of the various port activities thanks to a network of autonomous drones is a useful tool for the entire port community. The combination of industry and logistics makes the port environment an excellent testing ground for the SAFIR project and other planned drone demonstrations.”

The demonstrations carried out by the EU-funded project are expected to provide practical insights for the SESAR public-private partnership, which is the entity responsible for coordinating all EU air traffic management research and development activities. The demonstrations thus contribute to the European Commission's regulatory process for safe, standardized and more harmonious access to airspace for drones.

Aside from the Port of Antwerp, other organisations in the consortium include Amazon Prime Air, Aveillant, C-Astral, DronePort, Elia, Explicit, Helicus, Proximus, SABCA, Skeyes, Tekever and Unifly.

U-space is a promotional framework which in the long term should facilitate access to all levels of European airspace, including crewed air transport and air traffic control. If everything goes well, the first U-space basic services will be available by the end of 2019. This will allow a range of drone missions within a sustainable European ecosystem that is globally compatible. At present, some drone missions are limited in the absence of a clear regulatory framework.

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